Accessibility links

Thailand to Move Some Flights to Old Airport

The Thai government is moving some domestic flights back to Bangkok's old Don Muang Airport, to allow cracks in the taxiways at the four-month-old, $4 billion Suvarnabhumi Airport to be repaired. Ron Corben reports from Bangkok.

The Thai Cabinet agreed Tuesday to the transfer of some domestic flights back to Don Muang Airport. The Transport Ministry had proposed the move so as to relieve pressure on newly opened Suvarnabhumi Airport and allow repairs to be made there.

Ground subsidence and cracking along the taxiways have led to 11 air gates at the new airport being closed. The resulting backup has led to several flights being delayed, or diverted to the old Thai air force base at Utapao, 150 kilometers to the southeast.

The new airport was officially opened last September, just a week after a military coup ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from office.

The Thaksin government had high hopes for Suvarnabhumi. Mr. Thaksin was hoping to portray it as a government success story as general elections were held at the end of 2006. Officials were predicting it would help turn Thailand into a major regional aviation center.

But the elections were delayed by the coup, and the airport has been plagued by problems from the start, including poor lighting, difficult-to-read signs, and security problems. The government had already planned to spend a million dollars to make up for an inadequate number of toilets.

Albert Tjoeng, spokesman for the Singapore-based International Air Transport Association, says the necessity to reopen Don Muang is a setback to Thailand's hopes.

"To groom Bangkok as an aviation hub the long term, vision should be to have all commercial flights operating out of one airport," Tjoeng said. "Two airports will dampen Bangkok's potential for becoming an aviation hub in the region."

The Cabinet has recommended the reopening of 90-year-old Don Muang Airport only as a temporary measure. But officials estimate that repairs at the new airport will take up to 18 months to complete, and will cost as much as $1.5 billion.

The transfer to the old airport by domestic carriers is expected to take up to 60 days.

Thailand's Department of Civil Aviation, meanwhile, has decided not to renew Suvarnabhumi's international safety certificate until repairs have been completed. The airport is able to operate legally without the certificate.

On top of everything else, Suvarnabhumi figures prominently into an investigation by the military-installed interim government into possible corruption during Mr. Thaksin's tenure.