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Koh Phangan Airport, Thailand


Opposition to an airport in Koh Phangan, a mountainous, beach-fringed island in the Gulf of Thailand, can be traced back to May 2004. At this time, three years after rumours surfaced that an airport was planned on the island, reporters for Koh Phangan Island News spotted three protest signs on trees along the west coast between the villages of and Srithanu and Wok Yum. One of the signs read“Rau Mai Au Sa-Naam Bin Thi Nii” which means “We don’t want an airport here!” Another sign read “Thi Choo Ruea – Mai Chai Thi Choo Ruea Bin”, meaning “This is a port for boats and not for airplanes!”[1]

By 2015 it was reported that the noew airport could be complete by 2016.[2] Koh Phangan is already a popular tourist destination with many resorts along its coastline and is particularly renowned for its regular full moon parties attracting thousands of revellers.[3] In July 2015 it was reported that Kannithi Aviation Company Limited, also known as Kan Air, a small airline owned by businessman Somphong Sooksanguan, was planning to spend USD28.1 million on the new airport, envisaging that the new facility would handle approximately 600,000 passengers annually. The rationale for the new airport was that direct flights to the island would make it more accessible to visitors than the established routes: flying to Surat Thani Airport on the mainland then taking a ferry, or flying to the neighbouring island of Samui, just 5 kilometers south of Koh Phangan then taking a short boat ride.[1]

The site of the planned airport is on the east coast of the island. Forested land was cleared for the project. InSeptember 2015 Surat Thani deputy governor Ouaychai Innak stated that an inspection by forestry officials had discovered that preparation of land for construction of Koh Phangan Airport had encroached on about 20 rai (3.2 hectares) of forested land in Than Sadet-Koh Phangan National Park. Mr. Ouaychai instructed Kan Air to suspend construction of the airport, saying that three working panels would be established to investigate the matter and that officials were examining the origins and issuance of two land documents held by Kan Air.[3] In May 2017 environmental officials halted construction of the airport after finding that part of the land that had been cleared for the project is within a designated forest reserve. The total land area being prepared for airport construction was 150 rai (24 hectares).

Officials were doubtful of approval for construction in spite of the land caretaker presenting a Sor Khor 1 document informing officials of land occupation and a Nor Sor 3 Khor document which is granted to certify land use. According to an inspection it was suspected that the Nor Sor 3 Khor document had been unlawfully issued for 81 rai (13 hectares) of land while another 40 rai (6.4 hectares) of land was allegedly occupied by the project without permission. The irregularities prompted the Royal Forest Department to prepare to withdraw approval for the project operator and ask the Department of Special Investigations to look into the issue.[4] Forestry authorities lodged a complaint against Kannithi Aviation Company Ltd in June 2017, for allegedly clearing 42 rai (6.7 hectares) of forest reserve land, cutting down trees, to build Koh Phangan Airport, causing damage estimated to cost the state about USD85,000. Somkid Jiewkok, head of the Surat Thani Forest Protection Unit 6 which has responsibility for Koh Phangan and the neighbouring island of Koh Samui, said: “Land title deeds for some land could be unlawfully issued to the company operator. Those documents will be thoroughly examined by the Lands Department.” He added that land documents that had been acquired unlawfully would be revoked.[5]

In October 2017 a website about Koh Phangan airport,, while noting that no work on the airport had taken place for over two years since officials discovered the encroachment on forest, speculated that illegality and Kan Air’s lack of funds might not constitute insurmountable barriers to resumption of construction work. An opinion piece stated that:

‘The law is not an insuperable obstacle in Thailand…National Park land has been encroached upon before. The authorities are often slow to clear the land, and sometimes have a de facto rather than de jure approach to public land management…It is unwise to speculate but it is also perhaps premature to completely dismiss the possibility of an airport being built on Koh Phangan.’[6]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Koh Phangan Airport, Thailand
State or province:Surat Thani Province
Location of conflict:Koh Phangan
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Ports and airport projects
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

In September 2013 Somphong Sooksanguan, president of Kannithi Aviation Company Limited, also known as Kan Air, a small airline with a hub at Chiang Mai, said he was considering offering a 34-40% stake in a new airport on Koh Phangan island to local or foreign investors to help meet the USD28 million construction costs. A facility with a 1,100 meter runway and capacity to handle 600,000 passengers annually was proposed.[7] In September 2015 Surat Thani provincial authorities ordered Kan Air to suspend construction because land clearance for the airport had encroached on about 3.2 hectares of forest land in Than Sadet-Koh Phangan National Park.[3] The total land area being prepared for the airport was 24 hectares.[4]

Kan Air spent USD14 million to secure additional land for the airport but this left a shortfall of USD43 million in the total funds required to complete the project, which Kan Air president Somphong Sooksanguan aimed to attract foreign investors. In September 2016 Kan Air estimated that construction costs had almost doubled since the 2013 estimate, to USD57 million.[7] Cessation of Kan Air operations casts further doubt on resumption of airport construction work. All flights were suspended on 21st April 2017 and it was not known whether the airline would resume operations.[8]

Project area:24
Level of Investment for the conflictive project57,000,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:10/05/2004
Company names or state enterprises:Kannithi Aviation Company Limited (Kan Air) from Thailand - Developer and manager of Koh Phangan airport project
Relevant government actors:Surat Thani Province
Royal Forest Department
Department of Special Investigations

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local government/political parties
Surat Thani Forest Protection Unit 6
Forms of mobilization:Official complaint letters and petitions
Surat Thani provincial authorities ordered a halt to construction work in September 2015


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Potential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Noise pollution, Soil erosion
Health ImpactsPotential: Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsIllnesses caused by pollutants emitted by aircraft
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Loss of livelihood, Land dispossession


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Application of existing regulations
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Provincial and forestry officials intervened to enforce regulations, halting construction of Koh Phangan Airport when it was discovered that land clearance in preparation for construction work had encroached upon forested land in San Thadet National Park.

Sources & Materials

[1] Local Thai Protest against International Airport on Koh Phangan Island, Koh Phangan News, 10 May 2004

[2] Koh Phangan airport could be open by 2016, Koh Phangan News, 4 July 2015

[3] Phangan airport encroaches on forest: officials, Bangkok Post, 30 September 2015

[4] Officials ground Koh Phangan private airport project, Bangkok Post, 29 May 2017

[5] Koh Phangan airport project hits snag, Bangkok Post, 9 June 2017

[6] Will Construction on Koh Phangan Airport Continue?, Koh Phangan Airport, 2 October 2017

[7] Koh Phangan Airport, Centre for Aviation (CAPA)

[8] Thailand's Kan Air suspends ops due to grounded fleet, ch-aviation, 24 April 2017

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Drone flight over Koh Phanga Airport construction site, Airport Koh Phangan / overflown with my drone / 10.1.2015, Florenz Kittel, 11 January 2015

Meta information

Contributor:Rose Bridger, Stay Grounded, email: [email protected], Sara Mingorría,ICTA, UAB
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:4014



Construction site

Trucks and bulldozers at Koh Phangan Airport construction site. Source: KohPhanganNews

Forest destroyed for the airport

Construction of Koh Phangan Airport encroached on forest land. Source: Samui Times

Source: Koh Phangan Island News

“Rau Mai Au Sa-Naam Bin Thi Nii” and it just means “We don’t want an airport here!”

Source: Koh Phangan Island News

Protest sign: “Thi Choo Ruea – Mai Chai Thi Choo Ruea Bin” , means “This is a port for boats and not for airplanes!”

Land cleared for Koh Phangan Airport

Land cleared for construction of Koh Phangan Airport encroached on Than Sadet National Park land. Source:

Forest cleared for airport

Forestry officials inspect forest reserve cleared to build an airport on Koh Phangan island. Photo by Supapong Chaolan, source: Bangkok Post