The celebratory opening came after months of system checks and test runs, beginning in February with a flight of tourists arriving from Hong Kong and culminating with four flights over two days, last Thursday and Friday (Sept 8-9), with hundreds of tourists pouring in from China.
The “test runs” have allowed staff to iron out last-minute wrinkles in making the passenger flow as smooth as possible, Phuket Airport Director Monrudee Gettuphan told The Phuket News.
Although reserved in revealing details of security at the new facility, Ms Monrudee noted that the new terminal will remain on “Level 3+” security, the highest level without invoking intrusive measures that interfere with passenger travel.
The huge building offers more than 73,000 square metres of floor space over four floors. The Arrivals Hall alone covers 5,910sqm, of which 2,980sqm is inside air-conditioned space. The five baggage claim points are served by a carousel 380m long, and the inbound immigration hall features 19 counters with 38 officer stations.
The Departure Lounge alone covers 4,280sqm, serving four gates, with 96 check-in counters and 17 outbound immigration counters with 34 officer stations. The outbound security points feature 11 latest-technology x-ray machines, Ms Monrudee noted.
As its name “International Terminal’ indicates, the new terminal itself is to be dedicated to serving international travellers, Ms Monrudee explained.
“However, the old terminal will undergo extensive renovations and later be dedicated to serving domestic passengers only,” she said.
Despite the prowess of the new terminal, concerns were voiced more than two years ago that Phuket Airport would be over-capacity soon after the mega-expansion project was complete.
“It’s imperative for us to get further expansion going [at Phuket] if we are to catch up with the fast-growing traffic demand,” said Mekin Petplai, then-President of Airports of Thailand (AoT), which operates six major international airports in Thailand, including in Phuket.
Mr Mekin’s concerns drew action, with basic plans for a B3 billion “upgrade to the upgrade” to raise passenger throughput capacity to 18 million by 2018 tabled back then.
His concerns were well-founded. Phuket Airport served a total of 12,525,864 travellers – 6,955,139 international and 5,904,217 domestic – in 2015, according to AoT statistics, and the island’s critical tourism portal is on track to bust that figure this year.
From Jan-July this year, Phuket served 8,943,834 passengers, compared with 7,465,621 during the same period last year – already a 19.7-per-cent hike in the number of passengers passing through the airport.
Meanwhile, the opening of the International Terminal also marked the ninth anniversary of the Flight OG269 air disaster in 2007, when a One-Two-Go aircraft crashed at the airport, killing 89 of the 130 persons on board. One survivor succumbed to burn injuries several days after the crash.
Following damning reports over safety regulations, One-Two-Go was subsequently shut down by its parent company Orient Thai, which still operates flights today.
Phuket Airport’s only other disaster was Thai Airways Flight 365 from Hat Yai International Airport which crashed into the Andaman Sea off Phuket’s west coast on August 31, 1987, killing all 74 passengers and nine crew on board.
Phuket Airport does not hold activities, nor displays any plaques, in remembrance of either event.