In U-Tapao, a growth opportunity for Thai Technical

The air at U-Tapao airport was abuzz in early May, and deputy director of Thai Technical’s aircraft overhaul department, Catipod Keadmonkong, was on a mission.

Parked in the distance at the hangar was a Thai Airways International Airbus A380, its distinctive purple tail peering out from the facility, and towering over everything else.

“This is the first time the A380 comes to U-Tapao,” a beaming Keadmonkong says, gesturing at the massive aircraft in the background.

But more importantly, the Thai Technical team at the MRO base there completed the A380’s C-check in about 50 days, well under the average of 60 days.

Later at a media presentation, Keadmonkong would go on to describe the extent the team went to accommodate the A380 at its premises. For one, part of the hangar doors had to be cut out to allow the aircraft to enter.

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It was the first time an Airbus A380 had come to U-Tapao airport

Alfred Chua

The buoyant mood at U-Tapao – Keadmonkong and the team were to have a celebratory dinner in the evening of the media visit – underscored the bold plans Thai Technical had for its U-Tapao base.

In its 20th year of operations, Thai Technical’s U-Tapao facility will soon be demolished to make way for a bigger, digital-centric MRO facility.

In 2017, Thai Technical, the MRO arm of Thai Airways, signed a memorandum of understanding with Airbus, followed by a co-operation agreement, to explore setting up of such a facility.

FREED UP CAPACITY, LEANER MANPOWER

The new MRO campus is expected to open in July 2022, and will span 34ha (84 acres). The initial investment will see $181 million go towards construction and civil works, and another $114 million for tooling and equipment.

The joint venture with Airbus will be split 50-50 between both parties, although the Thai government will invest in it too. Construction is slated to commence by the end of the year, with the joint venture company to be set up by the middle of 2020.

That same year, training for staff for the new facility will also kick into high gear. In 2021, the lease agreement for the MRO campus will be signed, and the installation of equipment will commence, ahead of its opening in 2022.

Its focus areas will include heavy and line maintenance, paint work, wheel and brake maintenance, as well as component overhaul. Key types to be supported include A380s, A350s, A330s and A320 family aircraft, as well as the Boeing 747, 777, 787 and 737.

More importantly, Keadmonkong says the new facility will ease the load off Thai Technical’s Don Mueang facility, where the company conducts the bulk of its heavy maintenance for aircraft and engines, and is operating at near-full capacity.

At U-Tapao, it does C- and D-checks, along with engine overhaul work, and component and interior maintenance, while its third Bangkok-area facility at Suvarnabhumi International airport conducts light and line maintenance services.

Shifting some of its work to U-Tapao will open up capacity to better cater to third-party customers, which include Thai AirAsia, Nok Air, NokScoot and the VietJet group.

Thai Technical’s production engineer group chief at U-Tapao, Songyot Tangtrakarn, cites VietJet as an example of a client that it may be better able to cater to once it has additional capacity. “[VietJet] decided to come to us, but we don’t have the space for them [to do heavy maintenance]. In the future, when we have the new MRO campus, we can do so.”

The company’s director of MRO strategy and business development Wilarp Thonglaxsanawong adds that while the bulk of Thai Technical’s work will still be for the Thai Airways group, it hopes to grow its share of third-party MRO work to about 20%.

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Thai Technical’s MRO facility at U-Tapao will be torn down to make way for a newer, digital-centric campus

Alfred Chua

When the new U-Tapao facility is up and running, Thai Technical will make greater use of big data analytics, and a suite of smart tools, such as 3D-printing, says Thonglaxsanawong.

The digital-centric MRO shop will be a “hangar of the future”, he adds, that is expected to go fully paperless, and new technology will allow it to reduce its staff complement from around 460 today to 250.

Thai Technical estimates that by its 10th year of operation, the facility will generate Bt3 billion ($93.8 million) per year in revenue, and Bt22 billion per year after 50 years.

More immediately though, the company is focused on getting to the 2022 opening of the MRO campus — and when the day comes, Keadmonkong will be ready to showcase what it has to offer, once again.


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​Bangkok Airways enters U-Tapao development fray

Bangkok Airways and two other firms have submitted a joint proposal for the development of an aviation hub at Thailand’s U-Tapao airport.

The company is teaming up with BTS Group and Sino-Thai Engineering for the bid, says the airline in a Stock Exchange of Thailand statement.

The name of the entity is BBS Joint Venture, which is bidding for the U-Tapao International Airport and Eastern Aviation City Development Project.

According to the Bangkok Post, other companies that have placed bids with the Thai Navy, which runs the airport, are local conglomerate Charoen Pokphand as well as Asia Aviation, which owns Thai AirAsia.

The report adds that 24 local companies and 18 foreign firms have expressed interest in the project.

Thailand is in the process of developing U-Tapao both as an airport and an MRO centre.

In 2018, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand said that the airport’s handling capacity will grow from 3.7 million passengers annually to 15 million within five years, to 30 million within 10 years, and 60 million within 15 years.

Plans call for the airport, a two-hour drive from Bangkok, to be linked with the city via high speed rail links. There will also be rail links to the capital’s other two airports, Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang.

As for MRO, Airbus and Thai Airways International are setting up a new MRO facility at the airport.

The facility will offer heavy maintenance and line services for all widebody aircraft types, including Boeing aircraft. The complex will also have repair shops for composite structures, as well as a training centre.


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U-Tapao airport to begin MRO operations in 2022

The U-Tapao Airport Authority has shared its plans for the upcoming MRO facility at the airport, reiterating its confidence in turning U-Tapao into an MRO powerhouse for Southeast Asia.

Deputy director Sommuk Keawmaruang tells FlightGlobal that MRO operations are scheduled to begin from 2022 and that the site will at first comprise of a single hangar capable of accommodating three widebodies and four narrowbodies.

In the first five years of operations, the facility will be used solely by Thai Airways’ MRO arm, Thai Technical, in partnership with Airbus. Thereafter, the authority will look to construct a second hangar within the site for third-party MRO work.

Keawmaruang says discussions with the AirAsia Group are underway, and that the group could set up an MRO operations at U-Tapao around 2027.

A source had previously said that AirAsia has plans for a dedicated MRO unit in Thailand to initially serve its core Malaysian airline, Thai AirAsia, as well as long-haul units AirAsia X and Thai AirAsia X. Around 90% of the firm’s work is expected to come from AirAsia Group, with the remainder to be from third-party clients.

“Feasibility studies are being done to see where we can build another hangar, but there is definitely space,” Keawmaruang says. “The location at U-Tapao is accessible for many airlines and we can expect up to Bt1 trillion ($32 billion) when the facility is operating at maximum capacity.”

Keawmaruang adds that Thailand’s last major investment into MRO was at Bangkok Don Mueang International in 2009 and that U-Tapao is primed for another round of investment as the country looks to catch up with its rivals Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia in this area.U-Tapao is located in the Eastern province of Rayong, 150km south of Suvarnabhumi International airport in Bangkok.


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U-Tapao to have second runway by 2021

Thailand has earmarked U-Tapao airport as a ‘gem’ that will drive other industries in its new economic zone in the Eastern province of Rayong.

Deputy director of U-Tapao Airport Authority Sommuk Keawmaruang says that U-Tapao airport will become an aeropolis as it undergoes an expansion phase with new infrastructure and establishes new aviation-related businesses in the Eastern Economic Corridor.

Keawmaruang shares that a second runway, 3.5km long, will be built by 2021. This is to enable the joint civil-military U-Tapao airport to reach its goal of handling 250,000 yearly flights by the next decade.

He says the current runway handles between 80,000 to 100,000 flights per year which includes both civil and military operations.

In addition, Bangkok is also considering constructing a third terminal at the airport and is looking to the private sector to manage and operate it. U-Tapao’s existing two terminals are managed and operated by the Royal Thai Navy.

When combined, all three terminals will be able to up to 60 million passengers per annum, says Keawmaruang.

“U-Tapao airport is a gem, well-placed to take part of Thailand’s new economic zone. The expansion of U-Tapao airport can also help with the crowding of Bangkok’s other major airports. We are located near Pattaya, which is a popular tourism area which is also going to grow in the years ahead.”


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