After 18-month delay, Thai PM opens new airport in Deep South

Mariyam Ahmad
Betong, Yala, Thailand
After 18-month delay, Thai PM opens new airport in Deep South Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha (fourth from left) and others alight from the first official commercial flight to arrive at the new Betong Airport in Yala province, March 14, 2022.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha inaugurated a new airport with international ambitions in Thailand’s insurgency-ridden Deep South on Monday, after the COVID-19 pandemic had delayed the aviation facility’s opening by 18 months.

Prayuth and some of his cabinet members boarded the first official flight, a Bombardier Q400 turboprop plane operated by Nok Air, to Betong Airport in the picturesque Yala province, from the capital Bangkok late Monday morning.

The PM said he hoped the 1.9 billion baht (U.S. $57 million) airport would boost tourism and help strengthen the economy of the impoverished southern border region, battered by a long-running separatist insurgency. Betong, a district on Thailand’s frontier with Malaysia’s Perak State, is relatively untouched by violence from the conflict that has afflicted other parts of the Deep South for decades.

“The government strives to make Betong a model for tourism and border trades, in line with the government’s policy of developing the economic triangle project,” Prayuth said, referring to a development project covering the mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South.

“Betong Airport will help boost tourism, support air transportation in the region to facilitate and accommodating both domestic and foreign visitors,” Prayuth said about the airport.

Betong, Thailand’s southern-most district situated 667 miles south of Bangkok, is a uniquely designed town surrounded by scenic mountains.

Officials said they anticipated more than 300,000 visitors a year, and planned to make the airport an international one so that travelers from Malaysia and other countries in Southeast Asia could fly directly to Betong.

Yaowadee Samu, a tourist from Bangkok who arrived in Betong before the airport’s inauguration, said she expected the airport would attract more tourists.

“Betong has such beautiful nature and nice air, but the curvy roads are quite unpleasant,” she told BenarNews, while clicking photographs of the new airport.

“This new airport, it’s a good choice for the journey. The airfare is just a bit over 3,000 baht (U.S. $90) … and more Thai and foreign tourists would fly here.”


People stand by the front of the new Betong Airport in Yala, a province in Thailand’s Deep South, in this file photo taken in January 2021. [BenarNews]

Thailand’s cabinet approved the Betong Airport project in March 2015 and anticipated opening it by 2019, but the project was delayed and only completed in September 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. Openings were scheduled in December 2020 and then March 2021, but they were postponed.

The central government lifted an emergency in Betong in March 2018 because of the relative calm in the district compared with the other districts of Thailand’s far south. Currently, the emergency decree is in force in 29 of 37 districts in the Deep South, which comprises the provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, and four districts of Songkhla.

Duangporn Suwanmanee, director of Narathiwat Airport, who also oversees Betong Airport, said that as of February this year, Nok Air, a domestic airline, had announced a plan to fly round-trip flights from Bangkok to Betong three times a week.

Betong airport’s 30- by 1,800-meter runway can support an 80-seat ATR-72 or Q400, both turbo-propeller passenger planes, she said.

Muhammad Adamdang, a resident of Yala town, said the airport is geared more for tourists than locals.

“[But] the good point is that if we have more tourists coming, there will be more money pouring into the local community and it will reach the hands of villagers,” he told BenarNews.


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