Are you satisfied with the progress that has been made on the major infrastructure development projects initiated by the Thai government?
Our prime policy focus areas are aimed driving investment projects on Thailand's railways. Rail is not new in Thailand—it is 100 years old—but we never modernized our technology so that is now our priority. Bangkok currently has two mass-transit lines, but the aim of the government is to expand this to 10 lines in the coming years. All 10lines will be approved by the end of 2016 and we aim to commence with the construction of the pink, yellow, and orange lines in the second half of 2016.Our second major focus is the Intercity Rail system, where we will double our single rail track, one of the obstacles to our transport and logistics sectors flourishing. We have altogether six double track projects, mainly linking Bangkok to the north, the northeast, and the south of the country. Our third focus is the high-speed rail, which the government has approved and is currently working out with our Chinese counterparts. The original length of the track was 845km; however, it was later reduced to 250km. I cannot say I am satisfied with the Thailand-China deal because of a few delays we have had to deal with. But Thailand has a world-class reputation for doing business where we take each project through a feasibility, design, financing, and construction stage; therefore, I am convinced we will succeed in getting the job done.
From the ministry's point of view, what have been the key milestones and trends in the aviation industry?
For aviation, the major issue is delisting ourselves from the significant safety concern label, the SSC, which was issued to us due to safety concerns with aviation regulation. We hope to complete our recertification of airlines by November and thus request for a re-audit of our supervision and regulations of the airline industry at the end of 2016. Our goal is to improve our capacity on the human resources side because airlines in Thailand have been growing rapidly. Over the past 10 years or so, we have seen an evolution of the entire industry, particularly as low-cost airlines grow rapidly and bring not only foreigners to Thailand, but also crucially serve the domestic market at affordable prices, which is vital for our population. We see huge potential in the future of inter-regional travel throughout ASEAN and beyond. Thai Smile, for example, is becoming more active in connecting with regional cities, which opens up new, exciting markets and is affordable from the airlines point of view. Because of this rapid growth, we have to look at our facilities and ensure they can accommodate this surge. The government policy is clear to use three major airports as Thailand's capital city's airport, i.e. Suvarnabhumi Airport, Don Mueang Airport, and U-Taphao Airport. Primarily, we look into the expansion of Suvarnabhumi Airport by building a satellite terminal, a domestic terminal, and a third runway. We use Don Muang Airport as a domestic and low-cost terminal with the need for expansion further by renovating the third terminal. Our regional airports are also at full capacity so we need to expand. We promote more intercity flights that do not feature Bangkok to ease the congestion, such as Chiang Mai-KohSamui, Chiang Rai-Phuket, and so on.
How willing has the government been to engage with the private sector for these infrastructure projects?
We encourage our projects to be PPP in type and include several projects into the PPP committee. Investments by the private sector, not only for operating, but also construction, can often take time to become profitable with such large infrastructure projects, so it is crucial to identify the right partners and delegate tasks accordingly. This is the future, especially for governments like ours, which are committed to upgrading the entire transportation network. The government can invest in construction and the private sector can come into the operation and maintenance areas. This is not only for rail projects; for example, our highways are operated by the private sector and the concessions likewise go to them. We will extend our motorway between Bangkok and Chonburi to reach Pattaya and Map Taphud, which is a location for industry as well as a tourism destination. The other two motorways to be constructed this year are the northeast motorway from Bang Pa-in-Nakhon Ratchasima and to the west from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi. The government funds the construction and the private sector manages the operation and maintenance of the highway.
With all these infrastructure projects in the pipeline, do you believe Thailand has the potential to be the logistics hub of ASEAN?
Definitely. We planned for regional connectivity 20 years ago when we first built the road network connecting the country. To the south is Malaysia and the border checkpoint is extremely congested so we will open a new border checkpoint. Looking at Cambodia, we have the biggest checkpoint border, which is now congested. Passengers, vehicles, and trucks use the same road, so we will build a new border checkpoint just for trucks and other heavy vehicles. The existing one will be for tourists. We are building a second bridge to Myanmar, which will make it easy for trucks and cargo to cross the border. In the northeast we have three friendship bridges crossing the Mekong River. We try to reduce the cost of transportation by improving rail connectivity across the region. Thailand will be the logistic hub because our population of 67 million is huge in terms of its purchasing power compared to our neighbors. The main objective is integrating our own infrastructural development with the new Silk Road project that the Chinese are building. The reduced travel time and logistics cost mean they can bring the goods from China by rail to our sea ports, and from there branch out to other regions and continents.
What are your expectations for the year ahead?
I expect that 2016 will be a year of construction. In 2013 and 2014, we were engulfed by political issues and protests resulting in a slowdown in business. Once the new government came in, everything returned to normal and we are ramping up. The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister want to see all the projects driven this year. At the same time we have to be extremely careful and transparent, particularly for large projects. It takes time to get projects approved and to run a tender process. Two major projects have started construction and we expect construction of the pink, yellow, and orange lines in Bangkok to start in the second half of 2016. Bangkok will be one large construction site in 2016. Our roads and highways have been damaged for many years so we need to reconstruct them. This will be a year of construction to link Thailand to ASEAN and the outside world.