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Suvarnabhumi » New Bangkok Airport up and running

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

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Two weeks will have passed tomorrow since Suvarnabhumi Airport was opened for commercial operation; thankfully no disaster, complete chaos or serious multiple failures occurred.

The teething troubles seem to have been gradually resolved and kept to minimum with great determination, apparently due to the total dedication, the high spirit of teamwork among parties concerned and well-laid-down contingency plans.

In a poll I conducted, international airline managers, who were utterly critical about the readiness of the 125-billion-baht airport ahead of its Sept 28 opening, have given a passing grade in its initial operation. Scores of airline executives, who were on the ground, rated Suvarnabhumi’s terminal and operations about six or seven on a scale of 10, a pretty fair assessment and consistent with scores that Airports of Thailand Plc (AOT) which runs the airport, has given itself.

With all fairness, Suvarnabhumi has indeed worked quite well for a newly opened facility with such scale, particularly in light of the various issues that have plagued Suvarnabhumi over the past few months.

But the major letdown of Bangkok’s long-awaited answer to the ageing and overcrowded Don Muang airport, has been its cargo-handling operations.

This is where problems related to unclear documentation, insufficient cargo space, delays in approval of applications, and the lack of experienced staff that caused tonnes of goods being stranded for days, remain unresolved though there has been some improvement.

Suvarnabhumi’s performance, particularly those related to airlines and passengers, exceeded airline managers’ expectations in various respects, primarily because many were poised for the worst to happen, such as baggage system malfunction and computer glitches.

While there were, and continue to be, ”minor” problems with the facility, they are not on any grander scale than the issues they faced at Don Muang right up until its closure, only different issues.

Among problems at the terminal, airline managers cited poor and insufficient signage, dirty and insufficient number of toilets, lack of operating telephone connectivity, lack of moving walkways, poor design of utilisation space, late arrival of baggage and overall terminal cleanliness.

According to airline managers, there are also plus points about Suvarnabhumi i.e. less congestion particularly at the security check-point and immigration; more contact gates; baggage handling system and CTX screening equipment have worked relatively well; less vehicle congestion at the departure and arrival areas; arrivals area is spacious with more than double the number of immigration inspection booths and a beautiful blend of modern western architecture with traditional Thai cultural artwork… an excellent display of ”East meets West”.

In fact, some of the problems at Suvarnabhumi were unexpected and not entirely the fault of AoT and parties concerned which manage it.

Especially on weekends, some 100,000 sightseers a day flocked to the airport to marvel at its airy and futuristic structure designed by German architect Helmut Jahn, featuring an oval-shaped concourse, energy-efficient temperature control systems, and several superlatives in airport construction.

These sightseers created a chain reaction effect on aspects like road traffic congestion inside the airport, excessive garbage, clogged and dirty toilets, and crowded terminal, which needs to serve some 80,000-90,000 actual passengers a day.

It is encouraging to see that the AOT has been open-minded about the problems at the airport as well as criticisms, some even unfair, and has shown a determination to tackle all those pending issues upfront. There have been positive signs that airlines, particularly Thai Airways International which operates the largest number of flights and fleet through Suvarnabhumi, reported ”vast improvement” in performance at the airport.

So, though much needs to be done, Suvarnabhumi Airport seems to have hit the ground running and is poised to make some headway in competing with the world’s best airports like Hong Kong International Airport and Singapore’s Changi Airport. (BKK Post Article)

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