Published on November 28, 2007
The issue has cropped up once in a while now that Don Mueang Airport has been reopened for domestic flights.
Some are lobbying for Don Mueang to handle international flights also and complement Suvarnabhumi. Airports of Thailand (AOT) is in favour of operating two international airports.
But Kannikar Kemavuthanon, deputy director-general of the Commercial Aviation Department, insists authorities still have strong conviction in the single airport system.
"This is the policy that we have been affirming all along because it would be convenient to passengers and strengthen the operation of airlines, which are now forming alliances to improve their services," she said.
For instance, if a passenger travels from Europe to Bangkok and would like to take a reconnecting flight to Vietnam, he can do so without any problem by flying the same airline or through one of the airlines that is part of the alliance. But if Don Mueang becomes another international airport and the passenger is required to commute to Suvarnabhumi to board the aircraft, he would be put to great inconvenience because the current transport system between the two airports is poor.
Moreover, Kannikar said the dual international airport system would push up the cargo-handling costs of airline companies and cargo agents because they would need to transfer cargo from one airport to the other. Security measures would also become a major problem.
Assistant Professor Anukal Isarasena na Ayutthaya, director of transport study at Chulalongkorn University, said the dual international airport system could only work if there were an efficient transport system between the two airports so that both cargo and passengers could be transferred within 30 minutes.
"Since we need to compete with other regional airports, we have to give priority to providing convenience to passengers. Connecting flights must be efficient and not time-consuming," he said. "Besides, Suvarnabhumi is ideal to become a transit airport."
The AOT, however, sees benefits in operating the dual international airport system.
About 14 years ago, the AOT hired General Engineering as consultant to study the airport master plan. It wanted to know how it could maximise the benefits of having two airports.
Suvarnabhumi was originally envisaged as the primary airport, which would provide services to all airlines with dense intercontinental and regional markets. It would handle some domestic trunk routes such as Bangkok-Chiang Mai, or Bangkok-Phuket.
Don Mueang, on the other hand, was to become the secondary airport, for international routes without connecting flights, as well as domestic flights, charter flights and general aviation. In the AOT's perception, reopening Don Mueang Airport to international services would save it an estimated Bt67-billion investment in Phase II at Suvarnabhumi. Phase II involves construction of the third runway, passenger terminals and additional docking areas.
Suvarnabhumi is presently built to handle 45 million passengers a year. Its runways can handle 78 flights an hour. This capacity will be achieved over the next two years. Without expansion, Suvarnabhumi would suffer from congestion and flight delays.
If the authorities decide on the single airport system, Phase II and Phase III investment must begin concurrently because, over the next four years, the number of passengers at Suvarnabhumi is expected to reach 60 million a year.
But Kannikar argues that the AOT should improve its efficiency to raise productivity. Don Mueang used to face a similar problem. It was capable of handling only 33 million passengers a year, but increased efficiency raised its capacity to 39 million.
"The government has already sent a clear signal to the international community that it would pursue a single airport system. To change its mind after one year, and reconsider the dual airport system, I think, will lead to confusion and a loss of confidence among the international community," she said.