Assessment hurdle passed for Taiping Island Airport upgrade
By Ted Chen,The China PostTAIPEI, Taiwan -- The Coast Guard Administration and the Ministry of National Defense yesterday announced that a preliminary assessment has been completed for a NT$3.3 billion expansion of the Taiping Island Airport (太平島機場).
September 20, 2013, 12:21 am TWN
The upgrade plans include new runways and port facilities, and come amid heightening territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Over 3,600 tons of caisson structures will be constructed in Taiwan and towed to Taiping Island for the construction of an L-shaped port extending 320 meters from the coast. The new facility will be capable of servicing naval vessels up to 3,000 tons.
Engineers stated that the new complex will be situated on the southwesterly shore of the island, away from the older facilities situated on the northern coast, where large-scale expansions may threaten the local ecology, including choral reefs and the nesting areas of endangered sea turtle species.
In addition, due to the shallower shore depth of the island, a 320-meter extension from the coast is required. For every 60 meters extended off the coast, an additional 10 meters in shore depth may be attained, said engineers. When construction is completed, the complex will be able to easily accommodate the 105-meter approach berth and 6.5-meter depth clearance required by 3,000-ton naval vessel. The new complex will also be able to service a high number of hundred-ton missile frigates and search and rescue vessels.
The construction bid is set to be put up for auction next year, to be overseen by the Ministry of Transportation and Communication. The endeavor is likely to be arduous, as it will take tow ships one month to make the round trip from Taiwan to Taiping Island — transporting the caisson structures will require ships to travel at 3 knots per hour.
However, the plan proposed by the Coast Guard Administration to concurrently expand both air runways and port facilities has been halted by governing bodies citing the difficulty of the endeavor.
The Ministry of National Defense stated that priority should be given to improving the drainage engineering of existing runways to facilitate landing of C-130H cargo aircraft, but not before the port facilities are completed.
Measuring 1.4 km in length, and 0.4 km in width, Taiping Island is the largest of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. While currently administered by Taiwan, it is also claimed by mainland China, the Philippines, and Vietnam.