The centenary of Thailand’s first airport – Don Muang in Bangkok – was commemorated last year with a set of stamps. Phuket’s first provincial government plane began using the island’s first airfield at Baan Manik in 1928. Within the next two years, a regular seaplane service had been established carrying mail and a few passengers with the primary routes being Bangkok-Phuket and Phuket-Penang. A new airport was built at the present site of Phuket International Airport in the northwest portion of the island a decade later. The runway ran from east to west to benefit from the seasonal monsoon winds.
The grand opening of this new airport occurred on 24 June 1939 which happens to be the same date that the old feudal kingdom of Siam became the modern nation of Thailand, as declared by Prime Minister Phibun. The Phuket airport played a small role at the start of World War II as this was where the island’s European residents gathered as a Japanese invasion was feared on 8 December 1941. They took up defensive positions and had a standoff with two truckloads of armed Thai police while they awaited an evacuation to Malaya. After three days of waiting, a British ship appeared off of Mai Kao Beach which took the foreigners to Penang. Some of these evacuees were caught when Singapore fell a month later and some made it to India and fought the Japanese in Burma.
About 400 Japanese troops arrived by boat from Trang two days after the foreigners had been evacuated; one of their three camps on Phuket was set up near the airport. The Japanese improved the runway and after their warplanes arrived, Phuket was used as a reconnaissance and attack base for the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal operations.
Thai Airways began a regular passenger service from Bangkok to Phuket in 1947. It finally became an international airport in 1976.
The postcard shows the airport as it appeared in 1952, taken by Sangchan Limio-bakul.