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Suvarnabhumi » Don Muang returns as Bangkok international airport

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

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The government has decided that Don Muang will be re-opened for international flights, operating in conjunction with Suvarnabhumi, to ease air traffic congestion at the new airport where some facilities will be closed for repairs. It tentatively set the reopening to be in effect within 45 days, with details to be worked out by the Transport Ministry.

The decision, announced by Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont after the cabinet meeting yesterday, goes beyond the position of the Transport Ministry and Airports of Thailand Plc (AOT).

The two agencies had wanted Don Muang to service only domestic flights which had no direct connections to overseas routes.

Gen Surayud said the closure of some facilities at Suvarnabhumi could cause it to become overcrowded as the number of passengers passing through has been mounting.

Suvarnabhumi was built to handle 45 million passengers a year. The ministry’s projection for its first year was 40 million.

Deputy Transport Minister Sansern Wongcha-um said Gen Surayud was the person who suggested that the cabinet consider reinstating Don Muang as an international airport.

Transport Minister Theera Haocharoen expected it would take about two weeks for the authorities to decide which airlines should move back to Don Muang, which currently serves only charter flights.

Don Muang serviced almost 39 million passengers a year before the capital’s airport was moved to Suvarnabhumi on Sept 28 last year.

Built to be a regional aviation hub to rival airports in Singapore, Malaysia and even Hong Kong, Suvarnabhumi is now plagued by a host of problems, including cracks on its runways and taxiways and lax security.

A source in the ministry believed Thai Airways International (THAI), the national carrier, would be required to remain at Suvarnabhumi. Other airlines would make decisions based on their business interests.

AOT acting president Kulya Pakakrong said the airport agency, which is under the ministry, will benefit from the relocation, as it could delay the costly construction of a new terminal for low-cost carriers at Suvarnabhumi.

Don Muang airport director Pinit Saraithong said he was awaiting a clearer direction on the airlines and the number of passengers to be diverted back to Don Muang so he can judge the right number of staff and amount of equipment whichwill be needed for the reopening.

THAI president Apinan Sumanaseni said the airline will review its operational plans and accommodate the cabinet’s decision.

Executives of low-cost airlines yesterday welcomed the cabinet’s decision.

Udom Tantiprasongchai, chief executive officer of Orient Thai Airlines, which runs the One-Two-Go budget carrier, said his airline was willing to return to Don Muang.

He expected several other airlines would also want to move back to the old airport, but warned that it could lead to confusion among passengers.

Two other budget carrier CEOs, Tassapon Bejleveld of Thai AirAsia and Patee Sarasin of Nok Air, also said that they were ready to move back to Don Muang.

Mr Tassapon added that his airline earlier asked the government to relocate low-cost carriers back to Don Muang.

Nevertheless, Sopin Deangteth, president of the Airlines Committee, said she did not want Bangkok to have two international airports as it would confuse passengers and cause inconvenience if those at one airport had connecting flights at the other.

The transportation facilities linking Don Muang and Suvarnabhumi were not yet ready to serve passengers who need to travel between them.

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