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Suvarnabhumi » Star Alliance backs THAI stand on airport, ‘two sites too costly’

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

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Carriers under the Star Alliance, one of the world’s largest airline groups, are backing Thai Airways International in its contention that Suvarnabhumi should be Bangkok’s only international airport. The nine Star airlines that operate flights through Bangkok’s new airport are collectively expected to make a formal announcement confirming their stance within two days, according to industry insiders.

The nine are ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Thai Airways, Lufthansa, SAS, Swiss, Singapore Airlines and United. They operate 1,092 departures a week, providing nearly half the passenger seats through Suvarnabhumi.

Air India and Turkish Airlines, which also operate through the new airport and are due to join the alliance, also favour the ”under one roof” strategy.

Star will become the first major international airline group to take an official stand in the debate surrounding the proposed reopening of Don Muang airport for international services.

The initial response from many international carriers was a preference to stay at Suvarnabhumi until the government made clear its policy, which had left them confused and frustrated.

The cabinet’s resolution last week to fully reopen Don Muang as Bangkok’s second international airport raised a host of questions over the practicality and economic sense of having two airports running concurrently. It also overturned a long-standing policy to have only one international airport serving the capital.

The preference by most international airlines to remain at Suvarnabhumi could deal a blow to the Surayud Chulanont administration’s plan to move some commercial flights back to Don Muang to ease heavy traffic and free up room to carry out repairs to damaged runways and taxiways at Suvarnabhumi.

Only the no-frills airline Thai AirAsia and its parent AirAsia, Southeast Asia’s largest low-cost carrier, have expressed willingness to return to Don Muang.

Insiders said Star airlines had agreed to stick together and follow the lead of Thai Airways, the group’s local host carrier, which provides extensive support services including premium passenger lounges at Suvarnabhumi.

Splitting operations between Don Muang and Suvarnabhumi could seriously jeopardise the ability of Star airlines to offer ”seamless” passenger services, they said.In its statement, Star is expected to scrupulously avoid becoming involved in sensitive political issues such as the safety of Suvarnabhumi for flights.

has the backing of its union, which has submitted a letter of protest to Gen Surayud to press the case for keeping its international flights and connecting domestic services at Suvarnabhumi.

Thai Airways president Apinan Sumanaseni said the cost of operating at two sites would be prohibitive. The airline has already invested 16 billion baht in support facilities including flight operation and aircraft maintenance centres and flight kitchen at Suvarnabhumi.

Adm Theera Haocharoen, the transport minister, insisted to reporters yesterday that authorities would not force airlines to move back to Don Muang.

He supported a recommendation by a panel of investigators that the government should not close the 125-billion-baht new airport during repair work.

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