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Thai airport operator to spend US$5.5b on expansion

[BANGKOK] Airports of Thailand Pcl (AOT) , the country's main airport operator, plans to spend 194 billion baht (S$7.4 billion) over the next 15 years to expand its six airports to handle a boom in visitors, it said on Thursday.

AOT's budget was higher than a previous plan of 140 billion, mainly due to a revision to the expansion at Bangkok's Don Muang international airport following a surge in passengers and budget airline flights, President Nitinai Sirismatthakarn told Reuters.

Under the new plan, the budget for Don Muang airport will increase to 28.7 billion baht from 7 billion baht as it needs to construct new facilities, including a building linked to a new mass transit line, Nitinai said.

Majority state-owned AOT operates Thailand's six main airports - Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang in Bangkok, Hat Yai, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Phuket - which together handle about 90 per cent of air traffic in the country.

By 2030, Thailand's six main airports will have be able to serve 150 million passengers a year up from 71.5 million now, the operator said in a statement.

The construction of second-phase expansion at Suvarnabhumi is expected to begin in August, which will boost the overcrowded airport's capacity to 60 million passengers a year by 2019 and 90 million by 2021 from 45 million now, it said.

The US$4 billion Suvarnabhumi airport, which opened in 2006 on what was once flooded marshland known as "cobra swamp", has already had to handle more than 50 million passengers a year.

The number of international tourists coming to Thailand rose 15.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2016 and the government has forecast a record 32 million arrivals this year.

Thailand's tourism sector makes up about 10 per cent of the economy, which has been recovering slowly since the army seized power in May 2014 to end months of political unrest.