U-Tapao airport is located 140 kms southeast on Bangkok and just 45 minutes from Thailand’s most prolific resort, Pattaya. Originally a Military airport it’s hasty re-configuration to both a Military and Passenger airport has been largely due to the vast increase of visitor numbers to the Rayong district which is part of the Eastern Economic Corridor industry development. Additionally with Bangkok’s 2 major airports working at almost full capacity an alternative had to be found for charter flights and the fast growing Chinese market. (It will come back again soon!)
U-Tapao airport was originally built by the United States as a strategic base for the Vietnam war. The massive project was started on 15 October 1965 and was completed in just 7 months on 02 June 1966. It was a front-line airbase for the USAF B-52s that completed raids over North Vietnam and North-Vietnamese controlled areas in Laos. Up to 54 B52 aircraft were based at U-Tapoa with between 4,000-6,000 American personnel located on or around the base (in total there were more than 50,000 Americans stationed throughout Thailand. The last USAF flight to leave was in December 1975 with the base being formally handed over to the Thai Government on 13 June 1976.
From 1976 U-Tapao returned to being a Royal Thai Navy Airfield and a large maintenance facility was constructed for Thai Airways. It briefly enjoyed the limelight in November 2008 when Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueng were closed due to anti-government protests.
Construction of a passenger terminal commenced 2017 and was officially opened in February 2019 able to process up to 3 million passengers per year. U-Tapao now welcomes a total of 15 airlines (some are charters), 1.9 million passengers, 14,000 aircraft and is serving more than 34 domestic and International destinations.
Kim Waddoup enjoyed a lifetime in the tourism business and is an active ‘Silver-Ager” living in Thailand. He writes for his age group with high varied articles covering subjects relevant to retirees living in, or visiting Thailand.
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