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Suvarnabhumi » Look back to the old Don Muang Airport (Article)

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

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As the door slides open to the vast, empty Terminal One building at Don Muang airport, the holiday-makers pause, as if thinking they are about to enter no-man’s land. Ten flights is a busy day at Don Muang now and many staff long for the headier times of the past The trance is broken as an army of beaming staff rush to serve.

”For airport staff, sitting idle is a big shock from the head-spinning, demanding workload of the past,” said Don Muang director Pinit Saraithong. ”It is no surprise that passengers receive such enthusiastic pampering.”

Before the curtain was raised at Suvarnabhumi airport on Sept 28, Don Muang handled 700-800 incoming and outgoing flights a day, bringing in thousands of passengers, or about 39 million fliers annually.

Things have not been the same since it was converted to serve chartered flights, private planes, as well as public agency, military and police planes with only Terminal One in use.

The once bustling airport, with packed runways and airplanes circling in the sky waiting to land, today sees and serves fewer than 10 flights a day mostly military aircraft on take-off and landing exercises.

Staff meet and greet one to 10 passengers on a typical day. The busiest day was when a charter plane landed carrying 157 passengers, briefly bringing Don Muang back to life.

Duangchan Samalak, a luggage-security operative, said she has slowly grown accustomed to the quietness of Don Muang, but waits eagerly for flights that often carry only one passenger.

There are upsides to the change, said her co-worker Sanrat Buranasilp. For once, he said, there is no division of labour when duty calls.

In fact, executives rolled up the sleeves of their white shirts and helped the bag loaders put luggage from the 157-passenger flight onto a six wheeler, courtesy of Airports of Thailand. All the luggage conveyance vehicles had been taken to the new airport.

Mr Sanrat said it is a pity Don Muang had been left so little used.

Flight Lieutenant Pinit said not only attention but also staff and equipment have been shifted to Suvarnabhumi.

A workforce of 2,000 has shrunk to about 290. There are four shifts of 60 staff each operating 24-hours a day, with 50 others doing office work during normal office hours. Each shift oversees everything from the electricity system, runways, security, traffic to bomb disposal.

But customs and immigration services are complete and operate to an international standard, even for a flight with one passenger, he said.

What troubles Flt-Lt Pinit is that there are no ground service staff posted at Don Muang. Thai Airways International and Thai Airport Ground Service Co have opted to dispatch staff from Suvarnabhumi, forcing employees to make two or three round trips each day.

One THAI staff member, who asked not to be named, said: ”I don’t understand what executives have in mind. It would be more convenient to assign permanent staff, saving a two-hour trip from Suvarnabhumi. What would happen if the ground staff were in an accident on the way?”

Flt-Lt Pinit concedes it is not cost-efficient to run the 321,166 sq m airport for just a few flights a day.

Rather than enjoying a lighter workload, he regrets not doing more to serve the general public. Low-cost airliners could use Don Muang, he said, thus generating income to keep the airport rolling and easing the burden on Suvarnabhumi.  (by AMORNRAT MAHITTHIROOK)

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