For years one of the favorite topics of those living on Koh Phangan has been whether or not they will build an airport. For the skeptics the lack of available flat land and the perceived reluctance of the locals were strong indicators that it would never happen. For those in the opposing camp an airport on Koh Phangan seemed an obvious progression for the island: tourism is booming like never before and places like Thong Nai Pan Noi are attracting high-end customers who are prepared to pay for the convenience of flying to the island.
The argument is now over. They are building an airport in Koh Phangan. At first it seemed it was going to be located on the east coast between Than Sadet and Thong Nai Pan. There was considerable land clearance in the area, but that has now stopped. The reason has not been given. It must be assumed that the initial site was found to be unsuitable. Now the workers have moved to an area near Chaloklum village.
It is going to be Kan Airways that are going to run flights to Koh Phangan. Few other details are available. There are posters around the island in Thai that announce the construction of an airport in Koh Phangan. They thank some official and give no other information. The authorities on the island have not seen the need for further comment. This is partly the way things are done in Thailand. Construction goes ahead, and only when it is fait accompli do the facts come out: consultations about changes are not openly invited.
We can only guess to the details, but it looks like the Chaloklum site will allow a long enough runway to accommodate aircraft that can make it all the way from Bangkok to Koh Phangan. A short runway would mean the inconvenience of transfers in Suratthani.
Kan Airways is traditionally a low cost carrier, however demand and limited places will no doubt drive the prices up. That said, the current option of flying to Koh Samui is overpriced thanks to the monopoly that Bangkok Airways have. Moreover, the convenience of not having to catch a boat to Koh Phangan will be worth paying for. It is time consuming and sometimes the boats pitch up and down and cause motion sickness. That is particularly true of the Lomprayah catamarans which bounce over the waves.
We can only speculate when Koh Phangan airport will be finished. Obviously before the peak season around Christmas and New Year 2012 would make commercial sense.
For Koh Samui the writing is on the wall. Hotels are already running at 40% capacity. Koh Phangan airport is no doubt going to draw further business away from the island – which many see as justly deserved for the sin of over-development.
Interesting times are ahead for the population of Koh Phangan.