Interview: Arkhom Termpittayapaisith
What competitive advantages does the country have with regard to becoming a major multi-modal transportation hub?
ARKHOM TERMPITTAYAPAISITH: Thailand’s main competitive edge is its geographic location for land transport, especially within the ASEAN region. Every nation wants to strengthen its continental linkages, and the only way to do so is through land transportation. Our land connectivity is one of the best in the world because we are right in the centre to strategically link Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and China. The cheapest way to trade is through land transport, which is why we started developing our cross-border infrastructure in 1992, working with the greater Mekong sub-regional authorities. This road infrastructure led to increased trade volumes with China.
While we once considered developing a trans-shipment seaport in Thailand, we realised we are not in as good of a location as Singapore. However, there’s a good opportunity for us to develop our trans-shipment capabilities by connecting the Laem Chabang port to neighbouring seaports, such as Thilawa or Dawei in Myanmar, through our land transportation.
Seeing as region-to-region air connectivity generates more traffic in Asia, we have prioritised the development of our airports to serve business travellers in ASEAN. For example, the U-Tapao airport, though currently small, has the potential to be developed into a regional hub due to the growing number of passengers. From our airports, it will only take up to two hours to reach another ASEAN capital, which is reasonable for business people.
Do you see scope to adapt the public-private partnership (PPP) model used in mass rapid transit projects for infrastructure development?
ARKHOM: We enabled the maximum level of PPP, in which 100% private ownership is allowed. In the past we used a conventional model for mega-projects because it represented a huge undertaking that no private company was willing to bear. Most mega-projects were done by the government and operations were handled by the private sector. But now we give entire projects to them. We undertook several projects on the mass transit in Bangkok and the pink and yellow lines were fully handled by the private sector. The high-speed train to Rayong is also a project which is owned 100% by the private sector.
In 80% of the projects, private investors still ask for government subsidies to support them. However, we require each project owner to prepare a transit-oriented development proposal and enhance the commercial areas to make the project financially viable in the future. A decade ago you would not see investment in mega-projects, but today the ministry’s policy is to involve private firms more in Thailand’s infrastructural advancement.
What investments in airport infrastructure and capacity does the Ministry of Transport consider most crucial to ease congestion at terminals?
ARKHOM: For passengers and cargo, we need more space and runways. Our utilised capacity in the free zones at Suvarnabhumi airport is nearly at 80%. Runway construction will be limited due to the location of the airport; the maximum we can develop will only accommodate up to 90m passengers per year.
Given Thailand’s year-on-year growth in tourism arrivals, we need to streamline our immigration processes at our airports to better handle the arrival flow. We started introducing Thai immigration cards to reduce the amount of immigration agents at the local arrivals desks and maximise the handling of foreign arrivals. However, it is still not enough and our efficiency doesn’t match that of Singapore’s Changi Airport for instance. The only way we can grow with these limitations is to use more technology, and this will depend on Airports of Thailand.
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