The Transport Ministry and the Royal Thai Navy will sign a cooperative agreement next month to expand the capacity of U-tapao airport, Transport Minister Prajin Juntong said on Thursday.
The date for the signing has not been set but the minister said it would take place in late May.
The agreement will provide a clearance from the navy to allow the ministry to develop the navy-controlled airport in Rayong province.
The expansion will be undertaken in three phases starting with the construction of a new terminal to handle up to 3 million passengers a year from its 800,000 capacity at present. The project is expected to be completed next year. The first step also includes the expansion of the main road linking Chachoengsao province to the airport from two to four lanes.
Facilities at the airport will then be improved, starting in 2018, to accommodate 5 million air travellers by 2020. The last stage will be the construction of a new runway and the development of the commercial area around the site.
The minister said the plans will not start until the details are settled by two panels that are yet to be set up.
Despite the move to turn U-tapao into a fully commercial airport, ACM Prajin said the navy insisted on full control of the airport, including air traffic management. But the navy could seek assistance from Thai Airways International or Airports of Thailand to handle ground services in the event of increasing flights and passengers, he added.
U-tapao is the main navy air base and is also used to serve passengers mainly to Pattaya.
The ministry expects the airport to ease air traffic loads at Suvarnabhumi, while using it to bolster tourism and industry in the eastern provinces.