The U-Tapao naval air facility, part of the U-Tapao-Pattaya international airport complex, is currently the subject of heated debate due to the interest of the United States’ National Aeronautical & Space Administration (NASA) in accessing the base for atmospheric studies and as a disaster relief center.
Thailand, the United States and China have all expressed their position on the matter, but the political maneuvering aside, it is clear that the U-Tapao-Pattaya airport is becoming a central fixture in local, regional and international plans for Thailand’s economy, trade, tourism and security.
During the Bangkok airport occupation of 2008, the 2011 floods in Bangkok, and as a result of a recent 45-minute power failure at Suvarnabhumi airport, all eyes turned to U-Tapao-Pattaya International into a critical fall-back international gateway to Thailand.
In fact, plans are progressing to upgrade U-Tapao-Pattaya International to allow the handling of jumbo jets by adding a greatly-expanded passenger terminal and luggage handling facilities.
This airport expansion is key to coping with the strong growth of business, industry and tourism in Pattaya and Chonburi and adjoining Eastern seaboard provinces.
Thai political concerns, publicly denied, may be due to the fact that the NASA weather research program utilizes a civilian version of the well-know military U-2 plane made infamous in the great US spy flight of Francis Gary Powers over the Soviet Union in the days of Cold War tensions between the, then, world’s two superpowers.
China is now the main competitor of the US as the Cold War is over and world economies are all capitalistic and fear of communism is irrelevant.
There are some who still fret at the thought of the United States conducting “secret” missions out of Thai airbases that might embarrass Thailand in some way on the international scene.
Thailand has consulted China and was told that the US research is valid and is already undergoing in two other Asian countries.
However, Thailand and the United States have had a very close relationship over the past 50 years, and this friendship has led to well-recognized benefits for both countries as exemplified by the Joint Forces military training conducted annually in Thailand under KARAT and other exercises.
No matter how the politics play out over the next 6-8 weeks, the U-Tapao-Pattaya International airport will assume increasing importance for the economic growth and well-being of Pattaya, Chonburi, Rayong and the entire Eastern region.
Recent Government Initiatives
For the development of Pattaya and the Eastern Seaboard
• The Yingluck government’s announcement of a THB 500 million fund for infrastructure upgrades for the four Eastern region provinces, including Chonburi;
• The government’s major tourism development initiative announced during the recent mobile cabinet meeting in Pattaya;
• The State Railway of Thailand’s decision to proceed with extension of Bangkok’s elevated rail system to Chonburi and Pattaya, a boon to the rapid and efficient transport of tourists and business visitors from the Kingdom’s main international airport to the Eastern region’s booming resorts;
• The Ministry of Transport’s announcement it is upgrading the rail network for more efficient goods transport between the industrial zones of Rayong and Bangkok, the Laem Chabang and Bangkok Ports, and Suvarnabhumi airport;
• A serious security clampdown on issues that affect tourists in Pattaya announced by the Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung in a Pattaya meeting with senior regional police officers;
• The Ministry of Tourism’s announcement it is setting up a Bureau of Tourist Assistance and Fraud Prevention to aid visitors in filing complaints against petty criminals and more serious fraud allegations;
• The recent establishment by the national Crime Suppression Division of a Pattaya office to begin the new “Community Policing” campaign;
• The government’s announcement of an improved environmental and disaster prevention plan for the Map Tha Phut industrial zone in Rayong.
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