View Full Version : Bangkok's new airport set for take-off

Buster Hyman
28th Sep 2006, 04:48
Connie Levett
September 28, 2006

THE Thai army was on the move again overnight, but this time there were no political repercussions it was part of the massive logistical exercise of opening Bangkok's new airport without interrupting services at one of the region's busiest hubs.
As it happens, deposed leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who made Suvarnabhumi (Golden Land) Airport his pet project and a national priority, will be on the other side of the world, wondering if the Golden Land will become a golden noose.
Billed as the biggest airport in South-East Asia, with the world's highest air traffic control tower and the largest single terminal, Suvarnabhumi opened when Mr Thaksin demanded, but probably three months too soon. The architecturally spectacular but unfinished airport, 40 minutes east of the city, has been plagued by construction delays and serious claims of corruption.
Today's opening is 18 months behind its initial scheduled date of early 2005.
In a year when Mr Thaksin needed a good news story, he pushed the Airports of Thailand Public Company to get the airport to open on September 28, before October elections.
"There was a climate of fear. No one wanted to tell him it couldn't be done," said one analyst, who asked not to be named. "If the coup had come a few weeks earlier, the opening might have been delayed."
The Thaksin administration has been implicated in a number of airport corruption scandals. The allegations will be the early focus of the National Counter-Corruption Commission, set up by coup leaders this week.
The corruption claims involve everything from the purchase of bomb-scanning equipment to access to taxis. Initially, the taxi rank was to be located a three-kilometre shuttle bus ride from the airport, giving well-connected limousine service operators the only front-door airport pick-up access. A last-minute change means taxis will now be able to queue close to the arrivals hall.
The airline carriers watched as the new airport, which they welcome, became a political football. International airlines had asked for 180 days' notice to arrange the move, outfit passenger lounges and set up their networks they got 92 days.
Brian Sinclair-Thompson, president of the Board of Airlines, which represents 70 foreign carriers in Thailand, said he was not concerned about safety issues at the airport, but he was disappointed with the decision to rush the opening.
"We wanted to give people a cutting-edge experience from day one. Instead they will see shops not open, passenger lounges not completed," Mr Sinclair-Thompson said. "When Chek Lap Kok (Hong Kong) opened, they had baggage-handling problems and it took them 18 months to repair their international reputation."
Bangkok authorities claim they have tested the airport's baggage-handling system at full capacity and it is working. Just in case, two battalions of troops are on standby to manually unload baggage if things do go wrong.
A day before the opening, duty-free shops were still shells, the Muslim Prayer Room was strewn with debris and workers were sealing the floor tiles on the concourse.
Airports are big business is South-East Asia, with Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and now Bangkok vying for lucrative hub status. The building of Suvarnabhumi puts Thailand ahead of the pack with an airport that can handle 45 million passengers a year. Singapore's Changi Airport handled 32.4 million passengers last year, but when its new terminal is completed in 2008, it will leapfrog Bangkok to have a capacity of 64 million.
Bangkok plans to more than double its airport's capacity to 100 million passengers.
Suvarnabhumi Airport was expected to officially open for business today at 3am local time.

Now THAT's how to get the bags moving!!!:eek: