Update: Phuket Airpark founder confident of success in face of suit by investor. Read more.
Home, sweet hangered-home
By Paul Jansen
Anyone who loves flying can be excused for being a little envious of John Travolta.
He has built a home in Florida with an aeronautical theme. And I’m not talking about an address plaque with an aircraft motif or a weather vane with a spinning plane. Travolta’s house has a mini-control tower and a reinforced taxiway so that he can travel from the community’s 1.4 mile runway right up to his front door. Reinforced? Yup, after all, he counts a restored 1964 Boeing 707 among his personal fleet.
Travolta, whose Breitling watch advertisements lists as “Profession: Pilot. Career: Actor”, can certainly afford such a domicile. He pulls in a neat US$20 million a flick nowadays.
But for those of more modest means in the Southeast Asian region, Travolta’s domestic arrangements are not such an impossible dream. At least if Mr Robert Suchard Raksangob can help it. Khun Suchard is attempting to create a neighbourhood where you can park your plane beside your house. Fly to one of several spots tourists travel across the world to visit and be back home the same day.
He’s building Phuket AirPark on the east side of Phuket island in Thailand and has obtained the ICAO identifier VTSW for it.
A 500-metre grass strip runway (31/13) with a 300-metre overrun and a width of 40 metres already awaits visitors at 08º 01.1′ N x 098º 24.2′ E. A hangar lies at the end of a grass dispersal. A pleasant two-storey clubhouse with a well-stocked bar and rooms is a stone’s throw away.
The unique selling point (“USP” – an acronym beloved by marketing folk) is the ability of home-owners there to taxi their aircraft right up to their front door.
This might appeal to only a few. Just like Hamilton Scotts, Singapore’s luxury 56-unit condominium near Orchard Road, where owners can drive their Bugatti Veyron 16.4 or McLaren F1 car into their lift and park them right outside their living room, from where they can continue to marvel at the sleek lines of their expensive vehicles.
But just as the Phuket AirPark may appeal to the rare indvidual, the park itself is a rarity in the region, representing a very limited opportunity for a proud plane-owner to remain just a few steps from his aircraft even when at home.
I flew there in 9M-JFX, a Piper Archer operated by The Johor Flying Club, from Sultan Ismail International Airport (WMKJ) in Johor, on the invitation of Khun Suchard. I broke the journey in Penang (WMKP), an island with beautiful beaches and an historic city, George Town, which is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The trip from Penang takes you over little islands with aureoles of white sandy beaches which make you wish you were flying an amphibian. I landed in Phuket International Airport (VTSP) and parked there overnight. The next morning, my friends and I took off for the Phuket Airpark and the airshow that Khun Suchard had organised for the day for the surrounding community.
The Airpark is at Pa Khlok, just 7.4 nautical miles away from the international airport on a heading of 139º and covers 50 acres, nestled between a lush green hill and the warm and inviting crystal-clear waters of the Andaman Sea. It is about 30 minutes by road.
We join downwind for Runway 31 at 800 feet and use a bit of the overrun. Khun Suchard greets us with the national drink – Thai coconuts – and the friendliness that is the trademark of the people there.
His brainchild has received extensive coverage in the local media and I am keen to see for myself what is essentially the closest such development to Singapore.
The affable Khun Suchard, who has been flying for more than 20 years and is also an avid boatman, explains why he is doing it: “I was considering building either a marina or an air park. But there were already many marinas in the area.”
The land has been cleared and Khun Suchard says he has all the necessary titles and permits. The project has five phases. The first involves 43 lots varying in size from 0.25 rai to 2 rai for houses. These two-storey villas, with hanger and pool, are the jewel in the crown.
“The plots cost Baht 6,000 or about US$200 per square metre of land.
“The average median price for good solid construction of a house and hanger is Baht 20,000 or about US$660 per square metre,” he estimates.
The management requires your house be set back 10 metres from the edge of the airstrip to allow your visitors to park their aircraft and must be capped with a Thai “hat” to maintain the cultural feel of the country. Khun Suchard has illustrations of possible designs. Owners who do not want to integrate a hanger in their homes can keep their planes in the Airpark’s hanger.
When the Airpark is completed, it will have landed homes, villas along canals with berths, a condo and a small mall.
The Phuket Flying Club is based there. The president is Captain Watana Thinphanga, a 33-year veteran of Thai Airways. AirPark Home residents with their own aircraft can lease their planes to the club and earn some money when they themselves are too busy to fly. Those who do not have their own aircraft can join the Phuket Flying Club (annual fee: Baht 6,000) and rent its planes.
The Airpark opened in 2009. By November last year, six plots had been sold. I can see why: it is an appealing concept. General aviation and experimental pilots can rove over Phang Na Bay, drop by Krabi, or range further afield to Trang, Penang, or Langkawi for lunch before returning, like Travolta, to their home-hangers to talk about their 500-dollar noodles.
For more on Phuket Airpark, click here.
Copyright: Paul Jansen 2011 All rights reserved.
NEXT: The highs, and lows, of a flight to Padang, Indonesia