Suvarnabhumi Airport Map

Suvarnabhumi Airport : Flight Status

Friday, December 28, 2007

Suvarnabhumi residents to petition UN

Airports of Thailand's Chiang Mai office is investigating a complaint from German businessman Rainer Gassenschmidt about broken and dislodged roof tiles on his house he said were caused by Thai Airways International flight TG 110 flying too low on Dec 12.

Irate residents affected by aircraft noise around Suvarnabhumi airport say they plan to petition the United Nations next Thursday.

They say there has been no progress in implementing the plan agreed by the government and the tripartite committee to compensate and assist them.

Wanchat Manathamsombat, the residents' leader, said they want the world community to know about their ordeal and how they have been neglected by the government.

Mr Wanchat said the residents decided they would petition the UN after the New Year when the cabinet failed to consider assistance earlier this week.

This showed the Transport Ministry and the other agencies were not sincere in their promises.

Transport Ministry officials had told the residents to wait for the next cabinet meeting on Jan 3, Mr Wanchat said.

Deputy Transport Minister Sansern Wongcha-um said the ministry would put its plan to assist aircraft-noise affected residents to the economic ministers' screening committee chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Kosit Panpiemras.

If the committee approved the plan, it would be presented to the cabinet for approval.

Details needing cabinet approval include zones affected by aircraft noise, entitlements of residents who moved in after airport construction began in 2001, and compensation criteria.

Transport permanent secretary Chaisa-wat Kittipornpaibul said after a meeting with residents' representatives that problems with documents and procedures had prevented officials from buying houses and paying compensation.

For this reason, residents were being asked to wait for a while, as negotiations on compensation were time consuming.

A source in the Transport Ministry said it expected the residents to eventually file complaints with the Administrative Court, which is one of the options that would help to quickly end the compensation dispute.

Residents of Chiang Mai's Mae Hia district, home to the city's airport, already plan to petition the Administrative Court to order compensation for the damage caused to their roofs by aircraft noise.

The residents claim Thai Airways International flight TG 110 flew too low over their houses on Dec 12 and the vibrations from the plane damaged their rooftops.

German businessman Rainer Gassenschmidt and his wife Supaporn have filed a complaint with the Chiang Mai office of Airports of Thailand office on behalf of residents of Nimmannoradee housing estate, which is under the airport flight path.

Mrs Supaporn said the complaint was lodged a fortnight ago, but they have still to receive any response from AoT.

Source : Bangkokpost

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Airport-area residents seek halt to flights

Residents affected by noise pollution around Suvarnabhumi airport filed a lawsuit at the Administrative Court, asking it to ban air traffic at the airport between 10pm and 5am.

About 50 residents went to the court on Wednesday morning, saying that the period should be their rest time.

Chaisak Angsuwan, director-general of the Aviation Department, admitted that Thai economics especially aviation business will be greatly affected if the court grants the residents emergency protection and bans the air traffic between the time.

Airport of Thailand (AOT) chief executive Chana U-sathaporn said he was worried.. The matter will be brought into a board meeting on Thursday for urgent discussion.

Air Marshal Chana insisted AOT is not neglecting the complaints of residents, adding that it is willing to pay them compensation if new studies show they should have higher payment.

He said AOT has set aside a budget of about 3 to 4 billion baht or so to cover the compensation cost.

The airport debate

I can understand Thai Airways International's refusal to return to Don Mueang. Their investment at Suvarnabhumi is heavy. On the other hand, I can understand that a split between domestic and international flights is highly impractical for travellers.

I also realise that many travellers would love to use Don Mueang again. I have used Suvarnabhumi once and all I can say is that it is hugely impractical in all respects. Parking is far away, walking distances in the building are enormous, architecture is cold and the long concrete corridor near the gates is claustrophobia-inducing. Reminds me of a bomb shelter.

As Suvarnabhumi is doomed to be a white elephant, it would be a smart move to return all passenger operations to an updated and improved Don Mueang and convert Suvarnabhumi to a cargo-only airport. This would be a very logical solution as the Eastern Seaboard is not only highly industrialised, but is also home to Thailand's largest deep-sea port not far away.



The stem cell debate

I read with interest the article on "The stem cell debate" and, once again, the major ethical and moral issue in the stem cell debate is allowing people without basic scientific knowledge to write about stem cells.

From the article, it is intentionally unclear what type of stem cells we are talking about! Is it embryonic stem cells, fetal stem cells or adult stem cells from the person's own bone marrow, own umbilical cord blood, or own peripheral blood?

The first two categories of embryonic and fetal stem cells respectively raise ethical and moral concerns, and if the article is about those, then it should be clearly stated from the beginning. At all times when the public is addressed, the author must clearly define what kinds of stem cells are being debated to avoid confusion and conscious or unconscious misleading of the readers - unless the aim of the article is indeed to create confusion!

We develop from one single totipotent stem cell and our human body harbours adult stem cells since the first day of our lives and into long age. Those adult stem cells participate in the homeostasis of all our tissues and organs, aiding and promoting repair and regeneration. Initially and immediately at birth, blood from the umbilical cord can be collected and adult stem cells can be separated and cryo-preserved in the form of umbilical cord blood (UCB) stem cells. Those UCB stem cells are the source most readily available worldwide without pain or risk for the involved parties, most cost-effective and without ethical considerations.

Other stem cell sources available throughout life are the bone marrow (BM) and peripheral blood (PB) as a G-CSF stimulated extension of the former. Today, an estimated 45,000 to 50,000 hematopoietic stem cell transplants (blood or marrow transplants BMT), using predominantly autologous (patient's own) and related allogeneic (from within the patient's family) rather than unrelated allogeneic (unrelated donor), are performed annually worldwide to treat patients with life-threatening malignant and non-malignant diseases. Sixty per cent of all bone marrow transplants worldwide are autologous (patient's own stem cells) and similarly 80% of all allogeneic transplants come from within the greater family of the patient.

Cord blood stem cells have now surpassed the use of bone marrow and peripheral blood according to the April 2007 issue of the British Journal of Hematology. In Thailand, 80% of all transplants in children between 1997 and 2005 were either autologous or related allogeneic; that means either the patient's own stem cells or stem cells from within the family - the reason being tissue compatibility.

Our bone marrow is a magnificent factory regularly and constantly renewing the constituents of our blood system throughout life and increasingly appears to be a reservoir of immature cells that possibly take part in various regenerative and repair functions in our body.

Decreased levels of circulating endothelial progenitor cells (EPC)/CD34+ stem cells are now recognised as important indicators of cardiovascular disease and may have initiating roles in the pathogenesis of all diabetic complications and cardiovascular disease, and seem to convey cumulative cardiovascular risks better than Body Mass Index, diastolic blood pressure and total cholesterol.

Those observations inevitably and intuitively lead us to innovative therapeutic thoughts. Will modulation of EPC/CD34+ levels and function aid us to overcome the clinical needs and challenges in the 21st century created by changes in longevity and lifestyle, notably diabetes, cardio- and cerebrovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson's and Alzheimer's) and joint ailments? In that case, is replacement with autologous ex vivo expanded/enriched EPC or pharmacological stimulation of the endogenous cells the best way to go?

The former would be possible if previous autologous storage at birth or at a young age before the development of the disease, was available to avoid the profound impairment of EPC in established diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The latter could happen in two ways, one being physical exercise and administration of ACE inhibitors, statins and glitazones all known to stimulate EPC generation. Alternatively, classic G-CSF stimulation, autologous PBSC collection and consequent implantation around the areas needing regeneration and vasculogenesis could happen in both established disease or with previously stored autologous healthy and non-diseased PBSCs.

Future research on all the above-mentioned parameters will show us the way to proceed. Cord blood stem cells are now increasingly viewed as the capital ingredient for future cellular therapies in regenerative medicine, and may revolutionise the way we treat our society's major ailments and medical threats without causing any heated ethical debates.

The discussion should focus on early parental education regarding available alternatives and on the ethical dilemma created by the possibility of discarding cord blood stem cells rather than on whether or who should store it.


Specialist in Endocrinology and Diabetes

MD, PhD in Immunology and Endocrinology

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Thailand Airports profits not so high

The latest profit report for the Airports of Thailand (AOT) shows that fiscal year 2006/07 wasn’t as good as the last, with 90% fall in profit largely due to depreciation and massive maintenance costs.

Profit for the year ending on the 30th of September, 2007 came in at THB1.09 billion (USD33 million) sharply down when compared to the same period ending in 2006 which achieved THB10.5 billion.

This lukewarm result came even though AOT recorded a 20% surge in revenue profits, which were boosted from charging airlines more in airport fees.

But any gains made in that area where negated due to costs lifting by a whopping 91%.

According to a statement made by AOT, this was largely attributed to depreciation and maintenance at the new Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.

News of the smaller profit saw AOT shares fall by 0.86% on close of trading on the day of the announcement.

Court refuses night flight ban at Suvarnabhumi airport

BANGKOK, Nov 30 (TNA) - The Central Administrative Court has rejected a petition lodged by people around Suvarnabhumi international airport to prohibit night-time flights which they claimed generated noise pollution in the neighborhood.

The Central Administrative Court turned down the petition lodged by 359 residents who desperately cited noise pollution caused by landings and take-offs of airliners. They were calling for the termination of 166 flights,
mostly international, scheduled between 10 pm and 5 am daily.

However, the court ruled the international flights at Suvarnabhumi airport could not be called off at the expense of passenger inconveniences and Thailand's credibility in the eyes of foreigners visiting the country daily.

International flights were scheduled six months in advance by a world aviation body in Canada in order to accommodate bookings and flight plans.

It was instead suggested Suvarnabhumi residents call on the Airports of Thailand (AoT) or other authorities, to pay compensation for any damage caused by the airliners traffic. The airline companies might possibly share the cost of compensation for those affected by noise pollution. (TNA)-E008

Theera reluctant to use Don Mueang

Despite calls for more flights to use the old airport, Transport Minister Theera Haocharoen and his deputy are reluctant to use Don Mueang and have advised the Airports of Thailand (AoT) to make better use of Suvarnabhumi.

The AoT board on Saturday decided to use Don Mueang for both local and international flights so the AoT would not be faced with the immediate and costly expansion of the congested Suvarnabhumi.

Adm Theera said the plan needed careful consideration, and should take into account the national interests and the promotion of Suvarnabhumi airport as a regional transport hub.

The minister believes good management alone can increase the capacity of Suvarnabhumi from 45 million to 50 million passengers annually.

Deputy Minister Sansern Wongcha-um said the AoT needed to review its plans and look at the views of airlines, technical aviation limitations and make a clear expansion plan for Suvarnabhumi.

According to Mr Sansern, airlines would be inconvenienced if their connecting flights are returned to Don Mueang, and that could affect the goal of Suvarnabhumi airport becoming a regional air transport hub.

Mr Sansern wants the AoT to clearly state how Suvarnabhumi will function in the next five years so airlines will know if they must return to Suvarnabhumi airport from Don Mueang.

He warned the AoT that it was not easy to run two airports in the capital. Technical limitations would stop Don Mueang reaching its former annual capacity of 33 million passengers, he said.

Charnnarong Chuacharoen, the business director of Aeronautical Radio of Thailand Co, said air traffic controllers would have to be more cautious if both Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang were to operate simultaneously.

They are close to each other and their runway alignments converge, he said.

At present, Don Mueang is used mainly in the daytime, while Suvarnabhumi is used more at night. There are not many flights taking off or landing at the same time from both airports, so there is not too much pressure on air traffic control, he said.

If both airports operate together, Don Mueang will not reach its full capacity because Bangkok's air traffic will be congested and flights will have to wait longer in queues, said Mr Charnnarong.

No study has been done on the appropriate amount of traffic for Don Mueang, and that will affect Bangkok's overall air transport services and traffic control, he said.

The AoT board also decided on Saturday to expand Phuket International airport, which has seen an increase in traffic, especially chartered flights, in the past two years. The airport now handles 5.4 million passengers annually.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Innovative PPP

The People Power party have demonstrated remarkable lateral problem-solving abilities with their advert in the Bangkok Post. They are trumpeting a Cheap Housing project on the outskirts of Bangkok near a train station whose line connects to the heart of Bangkok.

I am both surprised and delighted to hear that the rail link to Suvarnabhumi will be completed soon after the election and that a settlement agreeable to all parties will be reached with the residents, allowing the new tenants access to the unwanted property under the flight path.

This is truly an innovative solution, with the potential to diffuse accelerating populist costs.

Prachai wants to scrap airport expressway

Matchimathipataya party leader Prachai Leophairatana on Saturday went to meet residents of Onnuj Road area in eastern Bangkok, promising them that in the event he becomes prime minister, he will scrap a planned expressway that will be built in the area.

Mr Prachai received a warm welcome, as residents there are concerned about that the M1 expressway, which connects with the Suvarnabhumi airport, will be built in the area.

He ensured them that the project will be scrapped if he wins the premiership.

He is scheduled to meet residents of nearby Bang Na district later this evening.

AoT profits plummet 90%

Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) saw its net profit for the financial year to Sept 30 nosedive 90% year-on-year to 1.09 billion baht, the lowest in five years, due mainly to the negative effects of Suvarnabhumi Airport.

The 70% state-owned airport monopoly blamed the poor performance on a huge increase in depreciation costs, a jump in interest payments, and unrecognised concession fees from the duty-free operator King Power.

''These three items, costing AoT more than 11 billion baht together, are largely key contributors (to the fall in profit),'' AoT senior executive vice-president Kulya Pakakrong said yesterday.

Depreciation and amortisation in the period from October 2006 to September 2007 shot up 454.23% to 6.35 billion baht, as expenses related to Suvarnabhumi started to appear on the balance sheets.

Bangkok's new international airport opened on Sept 28, 2006, at the very end of AoT's last financial year.

An interest expense of 2.39 billion baht was paid in the past year for loans borrowed for the construction of the airport and the Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel. Such items were recognised as assets during the construction period and are now regarded as expenditures. Lack of recognition of revenues from King Power caused AoT's concession revenue to drop 50.97% to 2.09 billion baht.

The revenues, amounting to about three billion baht a year, are the subject of continuing litigation between AoT and the duty-free and commercial space operator for breach of contract.

AoT said its operating revenues in the year rose 20.08% to 19.5 billion baht, boosted by a 28.37% rise in aeronautical revenues to 2.9 billion baht. The increase resulted partly from air traffic growth and from the increase in passenger service fees (airport taxes), landing and parking charges during the year.

But operating expenses rose 91% to 17.99 billion baht, mainly due to the commercial operational start-up of Suvarnabhumi, including 454 million baht for repairs and maintenance of the new airport.

The stronger baht also reduced AoT's foreign-exchange gain in the year to 2.8 billion baht from 4.19 billion a year earlier.

Mrs Kulya said that the results should not come as a shock as they were expected by institutional investors and analysts who were aware of the difficulties at the 155-billion-baht airport.

AOT shares closed yesterday on the Stock Exchange of Thailand at 57 baht, down 50 satang, in trade worth 62.15 million baht.

Court refuses to bar Suvarnabhumi night flights

The Supreme Administrative Court refused a demand by Suvarnabhumi airport residents to ground all flights at night to give them a respite from the noise.

The court sympathised but said it has no authority to suspend the night flights, as such a decision would pose major problems to global airlines and will cause economic damage.

The decision followed the demand by 359 residents who wanted domestic and international flights at Suvarnabhumi airport grounded from 10pm to 5am so they can get a proper night's sleep.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Government halts plan for 65 new airliners

Thai Airways International's plan to buy 65 new aircraft at a cost of 400 billion baht might have to be passed on to the next government for consideration due to several unclear details. Transport Minister Adm Theera Haocharoen said some issues remained vague and needed clarification.

Thai Airways' board chairman and air force commander ACM Chalit Phukphasuk endorsed the plan to buy the planes on Saturday. The 10-year plan starts next year.

The national carrier is waiting for comments from related agencies, including the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) and the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning, on its rationale and investment worthiness.

A ministerial source said marketing, projection and operation targets must be clearly set out before determining the types and numbers of new aircraft purchased. Issues which must be worked out in more detail include growth projection of the Asian market, particularly China and India, and market segmentation.

Thai Airways is expecting to retire 47 aging aircraft and get the 65 new planes through rental and purchase arrangements.

The airline plans to add 16 planes for long-haul flights, each with 300-500 seats.

Also on the shopping list are 29 medium to long-range jets, each with 250-50 seats, and 20 planes with 150-250 seats for domestic and regional routes.

Meanwhile, Deputy Transport Minister Sansern Wongcha-um said Don Mueang airport would serve international flights over the next five to 10 years while Suvarnabhumi gets expanded.

The Airports of Thailand (AoT) was told to submit plans on the Suvarnabhumi airport expansion and the use of Don Mueang to the cabinet before the Dec 23 election.

"We are rushing to seek cabinet approval for the overall framework, but not going into budgets or any investments," Mr Sansern said.

With the number of people using Suvarnabhumi airport approaching the annual capacity of 45 million passengers, the new airport needed an additional terminal as well as other buildings, he said.

As part of the plan, the AoT must conduct a feasibility study and draw up a plan for transferring some international airlines back to the old airport.

The AoT needed to work on connections between Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang as well as logistics management, because the skytrain project linking the two airports would take a long time.

Don Mueang now serves non-connecting domestic flights.

The 93-year-old airport was decommissioned when Suvarnabhumi opened in September last year, but was reopened in March to ease pressure on the new airport.

News from :

Thai Cargo sets up perishables distribution centre in Europe

The Operations Centre Building in Thai Airways International Suvarnabhumi Airport has signed a deal to set up a Thai perishables distribution centre in Germany this week.

The joint venture will enable Thai agricultural products to enter Europe and South East Europe, with a framework yet to be negotiated to reflect the objectives of both groups.

The centre based to be in Munich Airport was secured when managing director of Thai Airways International Cargo and Mail Commercial, Vorapravat Suebsaeng; Chairman of Thai AirFreight Forwarders Association (TAFA), Kovit Thanyarattakul; Chief Operating Officer Munich International Airport, Peter Trautmann; and CEO and President, Cargogate Flughafen Muenchen.Roger Scheifele all entered into and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

As a result, it is anticipated that Munich international airport will become the main gateway for the cargo shipment of agricultural products with the business helping to support and serve the public sector exports.

The Thai Government and Thai AirFreight Forwarders Association (TAFA) hope to find support from the private sector to this project and along with the Bavarian Government policy to approve the joint venture plans for Thai investors in relation to Munich Airport.

TAFA and four other companies will assist in an operational capacity to manage the temperature control cargo at the centre at Suvarnabhumi Airport through to its arrival in Munich. Cargogate will draw up designs for the centre and help develop the business plan.

This venture will also have the potential to increase profitability because both parties will be using the service.

Article from :

Airport-area residents seek halt to flights

Residents affected by noise pollution around Suvarnabhumi airport filed a lawsuit at the Administrative Court, asking it to ban air traffic at the airport between 10pm and 5am.

About 50 residents went to the court on Wednesday morning, saying that the period should be their rest time.

Chaisak Angsuwan, director-general of the Aviation Department, admitted that Thai economics especially aviation business will be greatly affected if the court grants the residents emergency protection and bans the air traffic between the time.

Airport of Thailand (AOT) chief executive Chana U-sathaporn said he was worried.. The matter will be brought into a board meeting on Thursday for urgent discussion.

Air Marshal Chana insisted AOT is not neglecting the complaints of residents, adding that it is willing to pay them compensation if new studies show they should have higher payment.

He said AOT has set aside a budget of about 3 to 4 billion baht or so to cover the compensation cost.

News from :

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi Airport campaign to become a top ten airport

The Airports of Thailand Public Company Limited (AOT) announced its intention to make Suvarnabhumi a serious contender in the ‘Airport of the World 2009’ contest.

These comments were conveyed by AOT at the recent Incentive, Travel & Convention, Meetings Asia (IT & CMA) show held in Bangkok, Thailand. AOT hopes to enter Suvarnabhumi Airport into the Airport Council International’s (ACI) 2009 global contest.

Deputy General Manager of Suvarnabhumi Airport and flying officer, Narongchai Tanadchangsaeng believes that Suvarnabhumi has the capacity to handle 45 million passengers a year and to increase this to 54 million in the future.

The airport is in the process of completing 700 evaluation surveys which is one part of joining the ACI’s Airport Service Quality program.

Six main strategies have been drawn up by a working committee to oversee the campaign for Suvarnabhumi to become a top ten airport.

The first one is to improve security in charge of handling baggage and any help given to staff.
The second aspect is the development of adequate facilities in the Passenger Terminal and services for travellers such as clear direction signs, toilet amenities, efficient trolley service and many more.

The exterior and interior environment will need to undergo improvement and all other relevant airport staff including security guards needs to be briefed on what is considered excellent service.

The airport will also have to seek cooperation from the various operators and businesses within the airport to improve on the current standard of service to satisfy passengers.

As well, there is a need for sufficient commercial areas like restaurants, money exchange booths and retail shops to meet passenger needs.

Narongchai Tanadchangsaeng expressed hope and said that the airport will do its best to submit to the best level of performance and life national pride.

“Suvarnabhumi is the front door in welcoming the country’s guests. If our guests are warmly welcomed, they will be more impressed with Thailand,” he said.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bangkok needs second airport according to Transport Minister

Thailand’s Transport Ministry has put their backing behind allowing Don Mueang Airport to operate international flights before the completion of a feasibility study due to increasing congestion at Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Transport Minister, Theera Haocharoen said the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) study would only be completed after seven months at the earliest which would prove too late after Suvarnabhumi is already approaching its full capacity of 45 million passengers a year.

"This issue should be cleared before my term as transport minister comes to an end," he said.

The operator of both airports, AOT is in the process of finalising guidelines to resume operations at Don Mueang and plans to meet with international airlines on November 26 to discuss the move. Several airlines have reportedly voiced their opposition to the move, saying dual airports would only be efficient with good transport links.

Next year an Airport Rail Link running from Makkasan to Suvarnabhumi should be completed, although already behind schedule due to construction delays.

Thai AirAsia’s Chief Executive Officer Tassapon Bijleveld has refused any move to Don Mueang Airport saying, “Thai AirAsia has already moved our head office to a location near Suvarnabhumi”.

Bangkok Airways also said they plan to operate at Suvarnabhumi only for its domestic and international flights.

Honorary president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, Wichit na Ranong said he disagreed with the plan without a high-speed train service linking the two airports in place and instead suggested Don Mueang be used as a special-purpose airport or for chartered flights only.

AOT vice chairman Narongsak Sangapong said Don Mueang should be used as a second international airport for the next few years until Suvarnabhumi could build a new terminal thereby increasing its capacity.

"We would need to consult with international airlines as the reopening will take time. Airlines will need to move back to Don Mueang and there will be new investments for ticket booths and passenger lounges," Mr Narongsak said.

Chaisak Angkasuwan, director-general of the Civil Aviation Department said airlines that returned to Don Mueang would be on a voluntary basis and that the Department would not provide any incentives for relocations.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Thai airport 'faces bird threat'

Flocks of birds are creating a safety threat at an airport in Thailand's capital, Bangkok, local reports say.

Open-billed stork
Large birds can be sucked into the engines of aircraft on take-off

Birds have been involved in 48 minor collisions with planes at Suvarnabhumi airport, according to the Bangkok Post.

Thousands of birds are said to be attracted by drainage canals around the runways and food on nearby farms.

Earlier this month pilots' groups expressed concern that a major accident could happen if a large bird was caught in the engines of a plane on take-off.

Abundant food

Airports of Thailand (AoT), which runs Suvarnabhumi, monitored the runways after pilots voiced their fears.

The organisation found that the most serious threat came from open-billed storks, which gather in flocks of up to 700 and can grow to around 80cm (31.5in) in length.

They also found that the large fish ponds and tall trees at a temple 6km (3.7 miles) away were providing additional food, shelter and breeding grounds for the birds.

Efforts to scare the birds away, including firecrackers and bird nets, have so far failed.

The AoT is now attempting to control rubbish and vegetation around the runways to reduce the amount of food available.

Suvarnabhumi, which means golden land in Thai, opened in September 2006 at a cost of $4bn (£1.95bn).

The construction project was plagued by problems, including cracks in the runway and claims of corruption by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup shortly before the official opening.

A government representative told the Bangkok Post that the newly-formed Thai aviation safety committee will meet in November to discuss possible solutions to the problem.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Suriya must explain corruption allegations

An Assets Scrutiny Committee (ASC) sub-committee probing alleged irregularities in an electrical power cable-laying project related to Bangkok's new Suvarnabhumi international airport has ordered former transport minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit to provide more information by next Wednesday, according to sub-committee chairwoman Jaruvan Maintaka.

Khunying Jaruvan said the deadline was set after Mr. Suriya failed to appear before the sub-committee on Thursday (Oct 25) to defend himself regarding charges of alleged corruption in connection with the project.

Instead, the former transport minister assigned his personal secretary to carry a letter to the sub-committee saying that he would be willing to testify, but asked to postpone his appearance for 10 days, said Jaruvan.

Rejecting the longer postponement, the sub-committee agreed to delay the hearing only until Wednesday (Oct 31), but if Mr. Suriya fails to report at that time the sub-committee would interpret his action as indicating non-compliance regarding the panel's request for more information regarding the charges, she said.

Khunying Jaruvan said the sub-committee already has sufficient evidence in hand and that the probe could be concluded by the end of December and forwarded to the courts for prosecution.

Mr. Suriya, who was concurrently a deputy prime minister in the former government of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is also being investigated for alleged irregularities in three other projects, including the Suvarnabhumi airport CTX bomb detector procurement, as well as similar concerns regarding construction of the new airport's rail link and the rubber sapling purchase scheme. (TNA)

Monday, October 22, 2007

For residents of the Don Mueang area, the sounds of an aeroplane are nothing more than just birds in the sky

Their tolerance level to accommodate the noise is astonishing. Despite the roaring aircraft overhead, conversations continue to flow. Those who want to talk simply switch to a higher volume, or shout out the messages, sometimes successfully beating the penetrating din. At Siripan Koedkaen's house, which is next door to Don Mueang airport, aircraft noise is not considered an enemy. Indeed, the aeroplanes have long been ''adopted'' as part of their daily routine; the thunderous noise during taking-offs and landings have served almost like punctuation marks of their chit-chats. More, even as their reliable timepieces.

Fifty-one-year-old Siripan explains the situation in good humour: ''Here, we can never gossip behind people's back. Everyone speaks loudly! See, we have to compete against the aeroplanes. We have become sooo used to it.

''[Up until the opening of Suvarnabhumi airport] we were so familiar with flight timetables that we could tell what time it was by the particular planes that were flying over our houses,'' Siripan added. ''They were punctual and we didn't need to look at the clock at all. In the morning, we knew that the planes would land at 4 or 5am; it was our wake-up call.

''How about now? Since the reopening [on March 24], we haven't yet got used to the new schedules. [During the closure] it became so quiet. And we felt a little lonely. So when the planes came back, we said to ourselves: 'Aha! Here they are back again.''

In the saga over the noise pollution at the Suvarnabhumi airport, Don Mueang often crops up in the debate. Just look at people living near Don Mueang, it has been repeatedly cited, they've never complained about the planes, have they? So why should the people at Suvarnabhumi? Just be patient, and you will get used to it, too.

One public health official went so far as to quote Don Mueang as the reason not to fear the health impact of living near airports. In September 2005, director-general of the Department of Mental Health ML Somchai Chakabhand was cited by the Thai newspapers as saying that there was no study in Thailand on how living near the airport affects one's mental health, so it was not possible to tell if people will (eventually) develop mental illness or not. So far, he added, there has been no report that there are people who live near the airport and have developed mental illness.

''They should thus try to adjust themselves to the aircraft noise. There could be some effects in the beginning. But after a while, they will grow used to it. People at Don Mueang can live

[with the noise]; no one there has become mentally sick.''

In a way, the government official was correct in his assessment. Siripan says she and her family members have never had an ear check-up. ''We may have some hearing problems,'' the mother of two joked. But besides waking up to the noise at night, and discovering some cracks in their glassware collection, the aeroplanes did not seem to cause them any other anguish.

Why such a tremendous difference in responses between people at Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports?

Sympathetic to her counterparts on the other side of town, Siripan says her immunity may be due to the fact that when she was born, the planes were already there.

Both her parents have lived in the Don Mueang area all their lives; her mother grew up right inside the current airport perimeter. Siripan used to play in the open fields near the runways as a child; she even toyed with the idea of using bamboo as chopping sticks to ''bring down the aeroplanes''. Her father retired from the air force and her mother once had a brief stint working at a nearby hangar, which belonged to the airport police.

For a few of Siripan's relatives, the airport is their u-khao-u-nam (lifeline), the source of income and employment (although she says that they now complain that Don Mueang was much better than Suvarnabhumi _ for they now have had to move and shoulder a higher cost of living).

It is not that Siripan and other people living near Don Mueang are all passive to any noise. Her neighbour, Kaen Muang-nok, chairperson of the community's committee, described the shrewd, often innocuous, tactics the residents had used years ago against the annoying, long-tailed boats that plied the local canal. They ranged from scolding (with lurid references to the drivers' ancestors), to filing complaints with the staff at the piers and throwing things (including bags of excretion) at the passing boats. The noise of a boat engine, for Kaen, is far more irritating than the aeroplanes, he said.

Interestingly, Siripan explained that the common anger with the boat service, which was stopped after the economic crisis in 1997, was due to the fact that ''they came after us. Using the waterway as a mode of public transport was not worth all the troubles they caused us _ with the noise and waves.''

So why have they put up with the planes? Tracing Siripan's and her family's lives, turns out to be a revelation of the unfolding roles of the aircraft business in Thailand.

Their's is a human history of the country's aviation industry _ from the ground level. It takes more than time to get used to the aeroplanes. There is blood, courage, a sense of patriotism, and of course, a good dose of humour that enables one to maintain such a high level of tolerance.

Siripan's 72-year-old mother recalled the vivid times of World War Two. Somnuek Nok-kaew says matter-of-factly that, for her, the present is not worth a fuss: ''I have been through far worse _ the planes that sprayed bullets and threw away the spent shells like rocks from the sky; the planes that flew so quickly and suddenly dropped bombs that burst everywhere. It nearly killed one of my aunts had she not been hospitalised in time. All my chicken and ducks were beheaded. One buffalo died at the pole it was tied to.''

Even then, with perhaps a typical Thai approach to life, she described her initial reaction to the commotion as ''sanuk ... we had to run against the bomber planes. Actually, in the beginning, I wanted to stay outside to watch the planes. My aunt had to drag me inside the bomb shelter.

''When the bombing became too much, though, we had to walk on foot all the way to Min Buri. After 10 days, when we came back, we discovered our house was a complete mess. Everything was broken or torn apart. The haystacks, the rainwater jars, all the baskets where we had prepared khanom-jeen for Songkran were scattered all over the place.''

For her husband, former RTAF Captain Chalerm, the worst noise he had ever experienced was during the Vietnam war: The drowning roars of fuel planes with their gigantic air-to-air hook-up tusks; ''they pierced right through my chest.''

Back then, there was no question about filing complaints. The presence of Japanese troops occupying Don Mueang was beyond their control. So was the subsequent fight against the communists, at home and in neighbouring countries. The long, continuous years of military regime may have also con tributed to this self-imposed complacence as well.

Besides, apart from the turbulent warplanes, Don Mueang was still small, ''about the size of a bus terminal'', said Somnuek. There was also a gradual change in type and number of planes. The old lady remembers the Corsair _ the dragonfly-like areoplanes that flew over her rice fields decades ago. They were followed by bigger jets, of which the KLM airline was among the pioneers (a bridge at the entrance of her community was nicknamed after the Dutch airlines). At any rate, she said the old models may have emitted louder sounds, but they were few and far between. It took years before Don Mueang emerged as one of the regional hubs, and witness to the hundreds of thousands flights a year (265,122 flights in 2005). Unlike at Suvarnabhumi, where the locals were bombarded by massive flights virtually overnight, people here have somehow been given time to grow along and with the aeroplanes.

In fact, in the early days of Don Mueang, Siripan said the locals' signals of time were a mix of sounds _ from the bells to the roosters and other engines. Aircraft noise was relegated a backseat place, Siripan and her mother noted. The narratives of the Don Mueang folks regarding the succession and layering of sounds shows that their sense of aural perception is not any less acute and subtle than anywhere else.

The chicken, Siripan mimicked the sound, would gradually add one more note to their crowing for each added hour at dawn. So it was ''eik-i-eik'' for 2am, ''eik-i-eik-eik'' for 3am, and ''eik-i-eik-eik-eik'' for 4am, and so on.

Then there were the steam boats that plied the Chao Phraya, between Pak Nam Pho and Ayutthaya.

Siripan claimed back then she could hear the humming sound of the boats at four in the morning, even though they were kilometres away. That was her alarm clock, time to get up and cook the rice. There were also the bells and drums from the local temples, rung at dawn and dusk respectively. Last but not least was the evening train that stopped at the nearby Don Mueang railway station, at 4:30pm. ''We called them rot ai duan

[the crippled vehicle],'' Siripan noted. ''At the train's whistle, the farmers who had been working in the fields, doing the traditional long-khaek

[voluntary labour pooling], would know it was time to head home.'' How simpler life was then!

One of the terms that often springs up in Siripan and her mother's talks was the ''poor, harsh'' lives they used to lead. With the entrance of kwarm jaroen (progress), they both agree, they have enjoyed more convenient lifestyles _ money, faster transportation, higher educational opportunities (Siripan said her mother finished Prathom 4 while she made it to commercial college).

But mother and daughter prefer the good old days. Their fond remembrances are plenty: The soil was fertile and fragrant (and edible, too), the rainwater tasted sweet (whereas now it is feared to be contaminated), fish and vegetables were abundant and toxic-free, there was all the fun of Songkran and other celebrative times and helpful neighbours.

''We were poor[er]. We didn't have that much money. But I still think it was a better time for me,'' Somnuek recalled.

''Before we would cook in big pots, and share with one another. We'd never go hungry. Nowadays, everyone just thinks they have as much as the others _ TVs, refrigerators, stereos _ so they think they can live on their own. They care less about the others' feelings.''

The sense of lamentation is obvious in the septuagenarian's voice. And it turns into frustration when the topic moves to their most pressing worry at the moment: The future of their home.

Having endured all sorts of noise for years, Siripan said ''the most boring noise'', the one that she cannot tolerate at all, is the pestering of some community leaders urging people to join the Ban Mankhong project. At one time, she said, the community's loudspeakers would be blaring mornings and evenings telling the residents: ''If you don't join us, your houses will be razed down. We have bulldozers at hand.''

''One of the loudspeakers was incidentally installed right in front of my house. It was so irritating! My father, who was then suffering from paralysis, got worse, having heard the repeated threats. It pained him in particular because as the first chairperson of the community's committee, he was the one who had started the Ban Mankhong project, but his policy was on a voluntary basis. His successors, however, have abused and exploited the system. Finally, I dissembled the speakerphone.''

Siripan accepted the new housing scheme is good in principle: It aims to provide land security for people living in the area classified as state property. In her case, despite the number of years she and her parents have been living here, the Kao Na community next to Don Mueang airport has long been designated under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department. Individual homeowners can never seek private land ownerships.

However, Siripan alleged, the actual implementation of the Ban Mankhong project, at least in her community, has been plagued with corruption and lack of public participation. The process was imposed uniformly, she said, without consideration for the different needs and backgrounds of each resident. Despite opposition from the majority of the locals (one survey found 320 said no while about 80 accepted the project), there has yet to be a review, nor a postponement, of the housing programme.

Thus Siripan and her neighbour, Kaen, decided to step in and ran successfully for the posts of community committee last year. It was an attempt by the old folks to reclaim the direction of their lives. However, she said the previous committee still has control over the Ban Mankhong operation. And she has yet to find a way to reach the ears of the powers that be, to ask them to take a closer look and revise the project.

Her sense of humour seems to be dampened, unlike when talking about the planes.

''I don't doubt the good intentions [of the Ban Mankhong project],'' Siripan sighed. ''It is just that the money dumped [through the programme] has only caused a division and resentment among the people. Only a handful have reaped the benefit; you can see how huge their houses are. It is literally cronyism. Those who don't belong to the 'group' just suffer, and will have to bear with cramped and low quality houses. It isn't fair. It isn't right, is it?''

Friday, October 19, 2007

Airport express link train to be unveiled Nov 9

( – The airport express link will be unveiled on November 9, according to the State Railway of Thailand (SRT).

Acting SRT governor Bancha Kongnakorn said trains to be used in providing transportation services have arrived at Lam Chabang port in Chonburi province.

Train services will be divided into two categories. The first line spans a distance of 28 kilometres and will run between Makkasan railway station and Suvarnabhumi airport in fifteen minutes.

The second train service, the City line, stops at all stations between Makkasan train station and Suvarnabhumi airport. The total running time between these two points will take 30 minutes.

According to authorities, the airport link is now 70 percent complete and it could take at least 370 more days before the entire route is finally completed.

Homeowners near Suvarnabhumi airport plan new protest

BANGKOK, Oct 18 (TNA) – Residents near Suvarnabhumi airport plan a new round of protests at Bangkok's main airport as they claimed a specially-convened tripartite committee has failed to make any progress in solving problems relevant to compensation payments to homeowners affected by noise pollution.

Prasert Boonkaew, a leader of the local residents said that the tripartite committee, comprising representatives from the Transport Ministry, the Lawyers Council of Thailand and homeowners, has worked slowly. Homeowners claimed that the Transport Ministry has been buying time by setting up the committee, which has yet offered no clear-cut solutions to tackle the controversial problem.

The residents' leaders then decided to reject the work of the tripartite committee and planned to stage a new protest on October 28 to put pressure on the government.

They will gather at Romruedee village before deciding whether to move to Suvarnabhumi airport or not. They believe more than 5,000 residents will congregate.

Meanwhile, Transport Permanent Secretary Chaisawat Kittipornpaiboon said in his capacity as chairman of the tripartite committee that the government is not simply buying time but negotiating property prices to satisfy both the Airports of Thailand (AoT) and the residents.

Without satisfactory results from the negotiation, there has been no progress.

Mr. Chaiwsawat said that the gathering of homeowners at the airport, if it occurs, won't help resolve the problem. (TNA)-E004

Suvarnabhumi ranks higher in online poll

The embattled management of Suvarnabhumi Airport have received some consolation from a reader poll by an independent online travel magazine that voted it the world's fourth best airport.

The top three finishers in order in the Smart Travel Asia poll were Hong Kong International Airport, Singapore Changi and Kuala Lumpur International Airport in its Travel Poll 2007.

The poll ranked Suvarnabhumi ahead of South Korea's Incheon International Airport, which last March was named the ''Best Airport Worldwide for 2006'' by the Geneva-based Airports Council International (ACI). Incheon was fifth in the Smart Travel Asia poll.

Except for the inclusion of Suvarnabhumi, the Smart Travel Asia poll was consistent with the much more extensive survey released in August by UK-based Skytrax. That survey placed Hong Kong first on the list of top 10 Airports of the Year for 2007, followed by Incheon and Changi, which tied for second place.

Skytrax put Kuala Lumpur in fifth place, while Suvarnabhumi failed to crack the top 10.

The methodology of the Smart Travel Asia poll was not disclosed, though the online magazine said it was ''based on actual experience, word-of-mouth through friends and colleagues, as well as an idea of the brand drawn from advertising and editorial exposure in the media, a great deal of this online''.

The magazine noted that Suvarnabhumi, which has had its share of teething troubles, was a ''a vast improvement'' over Don Muang airport, which was closed for six months after 92 years in operation and reopened in March this year for some non-connecting domestic flights.

Serirat Prasutanond, the general manager of Suvarnabhumi airport, said the Smart Travel Asia poll was a welcome encouragement to the airport operator. But he conceded that it could be based on much less comprehensive polling criteria and sample size.

Perceived as the industry yardstick, the Skytrax 2007 survey was based on 7.8 million detailed passenger surveys covering 170 airports, conducted over 11 months.

The Skytrax survey also covers more than 40 categories of product and service quality, including terminal cleanliness, staff efficiency and courtesy, terminal signage and walking distances.

In the ACI rankings, Suvarnabhumi is now ranked 40th.

Mr Serirat said that AoT wanted to see Suvarnabhumi ranked in the top 10 in the ACI table by 2009.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Suvarnabhumi welcomes 41.8 mn passengers in 1st year

Suvarnabhumi Airport during the first year operation accommodated a total number of 41.8 million passengers and 1.23 million tonnes of cargo, according to its Director Serirat Prasutanond.

During October 2006 to September 2007, the airport offered services to 267,480 flights.

The number was huge though Don Mueang Airport was reopened on March 25 to accommodate 40 per cent of flights.

The total number of domestic passengers using both airports in Bangkok in the period expanded 11.16 per cent per annum, or 1.2 million to 12.4 million. Total domestic flights were numbered 114,358, up 17.23 per cent or 16,180 flights.

- The Nation

Friday, October 5, 2007


AoT decides to halve Loxley-ICTS contract to five years

The Airports of Thailand (AoT) board has decided to halve the term of its security service contract at Suvarnabhumi airport with the Loxley-ICTS consortium to five years, saying the service is sub-standard. The board in July rejected its management's proposal to shorten the contract to avoid legal troubles.

AoT board member and spokesman Chirmsak Pinthong said the board had ordered AoT management to halve the contractual term from its original 10 years.

The contract, effective on Sept 26 last year, would then expire on Sept 26, 2011.

He said the Loxley-ICTS consortium's security service was deemed to be below the required standard.

Once the shortened contract ends, the AoT would itself take responsibility for the security service at Suvarnabhumi.

Mr Chirmsak earlier said the consortium provided only 1,200 guards a day, which was short of the 2,000 set down in the contract.

If the consortium raised objections to the decision, the AoT should consider terminating the contract right away.

The AoT would regularly evaluate the quality of the consortium's service. If it failed to meet requirements, AoT would push for termination of the contract.

In the meantime, AoT is accelerating the payment of five overdue contract payments totalling 225 million baht to the consortium.

Karn Thongyai, managing director of Asia Security Management Co, part of the consortium, declined to comment, saying he would wait for the written confirmation from AoT.

He insisted that the consortium complied with contractual requirements and had adjusted its service to meet the AoT's demands.

Mr Chirmsak also said the AoT had yet to discuss salary and conditions with AM Chana U. Sathaporn , deputy commander of the air combat command, who won the job of new AoT president.

The minimum salary should stand at 400,000 baht a month, he said.

According to an AoT source, the board yesterday agreed to drop some proposed conditions for the new president. They included the requirement he make Suvarnabhumi one of the world's top-10 airports within six months and hand any income from outside lecturing over to the AoT.

Mr Chirmsak, a member of the AoT remuneration committee, said those conditions had been set in the past to prevent problems and protect the AoT's interests. He admitted they were negotiable.

Board member Tortrakul Yomanak said Suvarnabhumi airport was ranked the fourth best airport worldwide by Smart Travel Asia, an online magazine based in Hong Kong.

The ranking came from an internet poll by the magazine's website There were about 2,000 votes cast, he said.

Top place went to Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport, followed by Singapore's Changi airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Koh Samui ranked 8th

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Airport Link trains due soon

The first two express trains for the Airport Rail Link between the inner city and Suvarnabhumi airport will arrive from Germany this month and tests runs are planned for late next year. Bancha Khongnakhon, acting governor of the State Railway of Thailand (SRT), said the two trains total eight carriages.

They were being shipped by sea and would arrive at Laem Chabang port in Chon Buri province on Oct 15.

The trains will be shown to the public on Nov 9. Mr Bancha said nine trains had been ordered, with a total of 31 cars, from Siemens of Germany. After delivery they will be housed at the SRT depot in the Soon Wijai area.

New AoT chief Chana to be paid less

Has to put new airport among world's top 10

The new Airports of Thailand (AoT) president is being offered lower pay than his predecessor and will have some tough goals to meet, including making Suvarnabhumi one of the world's top-10 airports in six months. According to an AoT source, AoT's remuneration committee discussed a package with Chana Yusathaporn for over an hour on Tuesday.

The panel offered a monthly salary of 550,000 baht to Air Marshal Chana, who was promoted on Oct 1 and is now deputy commander of the air combat command.

However, his salary after taxes would be 385,000 baht.

By comparison, the salary of previous AoT president Chotisak Asapaviriya was 700,000 baht, or 490,000 baht after a 30% income tax deduction.

Apart from the salary, AoT proposes AM Chana have a monthly entertainment allowance of 20,000 baht and a phone use allowance of 5,000 baht a month.

The AoT will also prohibit him from hiring an adviser because Mr Chotisak hired many advisers during his term, giving them very generous pay.

AM Chana was selected the new AoT president after beating other candidates in an open application contest last week. He was promoted to air marshal at the beginning of the month.

Seen as the toughest challenge for the new AoT president is making Suvarnabhumi one of the world's top-10 airports within six months. How well he fulfils that condition will go towards his evaluation.

The source said it would be an uphill task pushing Suvarnabhumi up the world airport rankings in such a short time. The airport has been riddled with operational and infrastructure problems.

The AoT board will meet today and it is expected it will try to iron out conditions to be set out in AM Chana's contract. The board may have to decide if it still requires the new president to realise the airport's top ranking ambition.

If talks with AM Chana over the contract fail, AoT may have to invite the runner-up candidate, Paolo Hospital executive Chanin Yensudjai, for negotiations over the top post.

AoT board member Chirmsak Pinthong, who is on the AoT remuneration committee, said yesterday the package for AM Chana was still negotiable.

If AM Chana agreed to sign the contract, his committee would seek approval from the AoT board of directors and the Finance Ministry, the major shareholder of AoT, to sign a contract with him.

Today, the AoT board will also be informed of the AoT's negotiations with the Loxley-ICTS consortium where AoT wants to shorten the contractor's airport security service contract at Suvarnabhumi from 10 to three years.

AoT views the quality of the airport security service provided by the firm as being sub-standard.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Suvarnabhumi still plagued by problems

A year after it opened, just half of repairs done

One year after its opening for commercial flights, Suvarnabhumi international airport is still plagued by a host of problems with only half of them having been fixed. When it was unveiled on Sept 28 last year, the airport in Samut Prakan's Bang Phli district was portrayed by Airports of Thailand (Aot) as a new, important landmark that Thais would be proud of. Instead, the airport is being remembered for all its flaws and scandals which can be traced back to the previous Thaksin Shinawatra government.

The airport has faced a host of problems ranging from cracks in its runways to jammed halls and leaking roofs. And all the blame has been heaped on AoT.

The agency has just released its annual report on the first year of Suvarnabhumi's operations. Almost the entire report is devoted to telling the public what problems have already been fixed and what will be done to improve Suvarnabhumi and eventually make it a key regional airport to rival those in Singapore and Hong Kong. AoT also pledges to make Suvarnabhumi one of the world's top ten airports in the next two years.

The AoT report only gives a sketchy picture of the flaws found at the airport so far. However, another report compiled by a panel set up to monitor the progress and problems at Suvarnabhumi provides more details that paint a worrying picture of the airport.

The panel, led by Civil Aviation Department director-general Chaisak Angkhasuwan, has found 61 problems at the airport and to date only 30 of them have been fixed.

The 61 problems were identified in the 104-page report which also offers solutions for them, according to Yodyiam Teptaranon, a member of the panel and the AoT board.

The report puts the problems into three categories: those involving the terminal, including structural flaws; those concerning information technology and operations, and service problems.

To deal with problems in the first category, AoT has so far provided more chairs and trolleys for use inside the terminal, improved signs, built another 204 restrooms to add to the original 1,464 and provided more space for passengers in the arrival hall.

But the report also shows concern over the lack of progress in the work to remove the electrical circuit control board from the upper floor of the passenger terminal for safety reasons.

There are now 1,050 security surveillance cameras inside the airport's passenger terminal, according to AoT. However, the report says more close-circuit cameras are needed for better security. The airport also needs more security equipment and personnel with a better management to deal with emergencies.

Also, the report says Suvarnabhumi's information technology system should be upgraded to have, among other things, a centralised IT security policy, a bomb bunker, and a dedicated telephone line to alert authorities in case of emergency.

It also suggests that airport restaurants improve their service, more telephones and internet outlets be provided for airport users, and better handling of passengers' luggage.

Suvarnabhumi airport director Serirat Prasutanond said AoT was aware of all the problems and was working hard to solve them.

The Council for National Security, which staged a coup that toppled the Thaksin government just 10 days before the opening of Suvarnabhumi, has made Gen Saprang Kalaynamitr chairman of the AoT board to deal with the problems faced by the airport.

Gen Saprang's main task is to tackle all irregularities including certain commercial contracts that are believed to benefit some politicians and officials.

However, a source in the AoT board said there has been very little progress. The problem lies in the fact the board had to deal with so many problems ranging from runway cracks to a shortage of restrooms that it could not focus on big issues. the source said.

The story is part of a series on the first anniversary of Suvarnabhumi airport

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A tale of two women and one airport

The struggle for fair treatment by those living near Suvarnabhumi goes on

Had it not been for a twist of fate, their paths might never have crossed. But over the last year, Somjai Panyanasonthi and Ratchanee Kaewprasert have discovered they share a common plight: The thundering noise of aeroplanes that fly overhead every couple of minutes.

Despite having lived only about a kilometre apart for several years, the two women had been leading separate lives. But over the past turbulent year, they finally met. Until then, each had been struggling on her own, devising different tactics to cope with the trauma of the noise and other types of pollution, and from the indifference of the state authorities they have sought help from.

Fifty-seven-year-old Somjai said she has been relying on painkillers every night: "My daughter-in-law has bought me the drug in cartons, which we finish very quickly; we take them as if they are sweets."

The two dream bhouses — until the airport arrived. On the left is Somjai Panyanasonthi's house; on the right is Ratchanee Kaewprasert's. Photos courtesy of KARIN KLINKAJORN and 'GREEN WORLD' MAGAZINE

Initially Ratchanee used ear plugs to enable her to sleep (Somjai, however never received a single pair from local officials). But when the aircraft noise became unbearable, especially during take-offs, the 44-year-old had to flee. For several months, she lived in a cramped rented house with her husband and their only daughter. "For about 15 or16 tenants, there was only one toilet and bathroom. The toilet did not flush well, and it was located away from the house. I was very concerned about my teenage daughter; my husband had to stand guard in front of the door whenever she went to take a shower."

Life on the outskirts of Bangkok, before the arrival of Suvarnabhumi International Airport, was idyllic. Ratchanee has been living here since 1996, and was born and raised inside the airport perimeter. Her attachment to the land _ the numerous trees she and her father planted and watered, the slow, quiet pace of life _ is discernible in her voice. "I had always thought I was lucky to be able to continue living here. Our relatives who moved out to live elsewhere still come back to take part in the traditional ceremonies at the local temple every year," Ratchanee said.

Somjai Panyanasonthi: "Nowadays I have to take painkillers every night; they are finished so quickly, as if they were sweets."

Ratchanee Kaewprasert recalls her pre-airport years growing up in the outskirts of Bangkok: "I had always thought I was lucky to be able to continue living here."

For Somjai, who has lived in the capital all her life, the single storey house she has been living in since 2003 was meant to be her "last home, a sanctuary for the last phase of my life". There was an obvious pride as she told how she had spent time and energy seeking "each plank of wood" that went to build the house; how her husband, a former national table-tennis player and self-taught carpenter, built the floor-to-ceiling cabinets, how she listened to the kawao birds chirping every morning. "My husband's cousin owns the land. When we first moved here, there was no road. Weeds grew everywhere. But in the mornings, I would be listening to the kawao that nested in the tree _ its sound was so pretty."

For both Somjai and Ratchanee, their idyll did not last.

First was the chaos that came with construction. Somjai said the noise frightened her favourite kawao away and they never returned. Curiously, the middle-aged lady said she first learned about the airport project when workers came to dismantle the pylons in her back garden. "But I still thought the planes would not fly this low; I even wondered why they would need to take them [the pylons] down."

Ratchanee recalled the series of nuisances local residents had to endure during the construction phase of the airport. There were days and nights of extensive burning of weed grass. The dumping of huge amounts of sand caused occasional "sandstorms", not unlike those in deserts, she said. Next was a loud, continuous clanging and pounding, which started at 6am and lasted until 9pm.

"We were certainly annoyed, but we took it to be only temporary."

Little did Ratchanee realise a bigger ordeal was awaiting them.

The wake-up call came two days before the grand opening of the airport. Trucks and cargo planes, carrying equipment from Don Mueang to Suvarnabhumi, passed by constantly, day and night. Still, Ratchanee tried to rationalise to herself and her mother, making an observation at the time: "Maybe our house was just on the path between the two airports. There is no way they [the aeroplanes] would be taking this route every day."

But they do.

While the original blueprint of Suvarnabhumi airport designated four runways (two of which are yet to be built), the subsequent protests prompted a significant change of plan. Objections from King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Lat Krabang (KMITL) and another big condominium project persuaded the executives of Airports of Thailand (AoT) to redistribute the take-off and landing patterns between the eastern and western runways. Ratchanee's and Somjai's houses, situated to the north of the western runway (see picture), seem to be among the worst affected. Between last October and May, 260,918 flights were reported to have used the new airport. For 2007 alone, the total figure is expected to reach 387,000 flights. A rough calculation shows this means roughly 44 or 45 flights every hour. To avoid the KMITL campus, the western runway has been used for the majority of flights (over 90 per cent on some days). In other words, Somjai's and Ratchanee's houses have been witnessing aircraft traffic at the rate of every two or three minutes.

At ground level, it simply means a living hell _ a cacophony of noise, with very few silent breaks.

Somjai said the first few days were all right _ there was that deafening noise, but there was also some excitement. Except for the fact that her father-in-law would be shocked, lose his grip on his walker and fall to the concrete floor every time an aeroplane flew over, life was not yet that traumatic. After all, the 89-year-old patriarch, despite his advanced age and restricted mobility, had until then enjoyed robust health. Every day, Somjai said she and her husband "would be sitting under a guava tree, chatting and guessing which airline the passing plane belonged to".

But as days turned into weeks, the initial novelty became bitter reality. In particular, Somjai's father-in-law's situation worsened. After repeated falls, he started bleeding badly. They rushed him to a private hospital. When he returned home he was unable to sleep. One night, the old man crawled all the way from his bedroom to the flooded front lawn. They found him the following morning, soaking wet and with algae covering his head, muttering repeatedly, "I'm scared; I can't live here." He died a few days later, on November 20, less than two months after the airport opened.

Ratchanee's response to the aircraft noise was grim from day one. Before she started wearing ear plugs, she barely had a wink of sleep. Gone was her bright, cheerful smile (a year later, she still rarely smiles). The nature of her work, giving rides to school for kindergarten and primary school children, added to the agony. The young ones kept shouting "Aeroplane!" every time they saw one passing by. The omnipresent green signposts with the profile of an aeroplane and the word "Suvarnabhumi" at the top caused her to shudder.

Back then, though, both still harboured hopes. Somjai said a few airport staff had visited her house twice, the second time with "almost 10 assistants who took notes of all my household items". Some in the group, she remembered, confided to her they agreed right away that "your house is certainly loud; probably more than a 100dB".

"I waited for their promised return. They never came back. A week after my father-in-law passed away, I called them, but they said I will never receive compensation because my house was built after 2001."

Ratchanee also confronted a slightly different numbers game. She contacted AoT's public relations office. They asked her to organise an impromptu meeting between them and local residents. She complied, going from door to door, informing her neighbours of the need to attend this important forum. There, she was asked to serve as a leader of her community (a position she has held ever since). They conducted a brief sound test, and told her: "Your house will never be bought; it's has a NEF [Noise Exposure Forecast] of under 40."

For both Ratchanee and Somjai, the two separate decisions by AoT officials stunned them.

Somjai said her husband was the one who contacted the local district office to submit the house's plans; he was never told about the airport project, nor that the construction of his house was thus forbidden. "They [AoT] told me the only thing we can do is to file a charge against the district office for having given us building permission in the first place," Somjai said.

For some reason, the year 2001 has been repeatedly used as a reference point when it comes to compensation.

On September 12, on the live TV programme Ta Sawang (Sleepless in Bangkok), Surathat Suthammanas, AoT's senior executive vice-president, planning and finance, in charge of allocating compensation, explained that 2001 was "the first year when there was an environmental impact assessment [EIA] study" undertaken for the Suvarnabhumi airport project.

In fact, the first EIA report had to undergo a major revision _ following its release, ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra later ordered that the target number of passengers be increased from 30 to 45 million a year, thus the need to adjust the airport's original design. The National Environment Board (NEB) reviewed and approved the final EIA report in 2005. (Interestingly, the introduction of the new EIA report stated that the first EIA study began in 1996 and was approved by the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (in 2001) and the NEB (in 2002)).

Meanwhile, Ratchanee has learned the hard way the significance of, and the confusion over the term "NEF", or Sen Siang in Thai. It haunts her, making her feel powerless to dispute its usage (and abuse) by those in the corridors of power. Her life has been turned upside down since the airport began operating; but the NEF seems to make things worse.


Developed by the US Federal Aviation Agency, and using a complex formula, a noise exposure forecast relies on data fed into a computer program _ including effective perceived noise levels for various types of aircraft, frequency of flights and all aspects of flight operation (weighting night occurrences more heavily than daytime ones) _ to help predict the sound footprint and effect on local communities of aircraft noise and airports.

Weather conditions and background noise levels are not considered, and in the US and other countries, increased public awareness, and subsequent decrease in tolerance of aircraft and other environmental noise, demands continual reassessment of methods such as the NEF.

As stated in the EIA report, a NEF of 40 or more means the area will be highly affected, and the local population may start to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss. Settlements with the residents _ AoT must buy or arrange for strengthening of their houses _ "five months before the airport's opening" is stipulated. For the area designated as falling in the NEF 35 to 40 range, the effect will be lower but any activity sensitive to noise, such as hospitals, schools and temples, is discouraged. When relocation is not possible, improvement of the buildings must be undertaken.

Finally, the area with the NEF 30 to 35 range may receive compensation for improvement of buildings. In the two latter cases, regular testing of noise levels must be undertaken by the relevant airport authority.

As with the constant references to the year 2001, the NEF figures are dubious. Depending on who draws up the NEFs contour map (and for whom), the size and coverage of each NEF range can vary greatly. For example, the NEF 30 area could be as small as just a few kilometres from the airport, or it could reach into the Gulf of Thailand. For almost a year since the airport became operational, the EIA's recommendation to buy the houses of those living in the NEF range of 40 has yet to be acted upon. There is no need to talk about those in other NEF ranges, let alone other stipulations, such as the continued noise level measurements.

In the middle of this gloom, there was a brief interlude. The Cabinet's resolution of November 21 last year proposed that those living in the NEF 30 or above area are entitled to choose between selling or having their houses improved, with the AoT footing the bill. The timeframe for entitlement to compensation has also been extended to cover every building completed up to 2006. Under such a scenario, people like Somjai and Ratchani will be given money to resettle somewhere quieter.

"I tell you frankly I have spent 1.5 million baht of my life savings to build this house. I don't have any money left. I only ask for the amount that I have actually spent, but now if they gave me, say, even only one million baht, I would be willing to move out as soon as I could," said Somjai.

Unfortunately, their renewed hopes were dashed. On May 29, Surayud Chulanont's Cabinet issued another resolution: Only those living in the NEF 40 area would be able to sell their properties. Others in the under 40 area can only seek compensation to have their houses repaired. AoT was told to conduct another survey to determine the number of houses and buildings built before and after 2001 and resubmit the potential amount of compensation to the Cabinet.

So everything went back to square one, and all Somjai and Ratchanee can do seems to be to battle on alone. Not quite. On September 9, the two women joined 2,000 other residents in a protest march to Suvarnabhumi airport. For a housewife like Somjai, it was the first political rally she and her husband had taken part in (Ratchanee had joined a previous one on May 12).

"I never liked walking, even when I go shopping. But on that day, I saw even very old men walking in the sun, and it inspired me to carry on."

But for Ratchanee, the longer she struggles for justice, the more depressed she has become. A year on, aeroplane noise continues to cause her literally physical pain.

Having thought that ear plugs were her saviour, on the very day the aeroplanes switched their take-off pattern (up until then, the northern end of the western runway had been used for landing), Ratchanee knew the protective aid was just a toy. After a day and a night of suffering continuous thundering noise, she developed a sudden inexplicable sickness.

At dawn the following morning, the very first thing she did was to run to her van, sitting there for a while in a foetal position, covering her head in a towel. Spotting her husband, she ran toward him immediately, unable to control her sobbing. Her body also shook as she asked him repeatedly: "Please take me away; I can no longer live here.". Their neighbours stared at the couple. Her father, usually a stoic man, was found later crying to himself. Perhaps, he was thinking he may have "lost" his youngest daughter forever.

That was the day Ratchanee and her husband went house-hunting. Almost a year later, she still keeps the tranquilisers a doctor had prescribed her that night. The packet shows the date: October 29. (Ratchanee has since moved back, partly due to the fact that the planes have switched back to the previous landing pattern). She said she hopes she will become strong enough to withstand the coming return of the planes taking-off in the coming weeks.

More hurtful for her though is hearing the words often thrown at residents near the airport, which range from accusations of being "greedy" and "unpatriotic" to questions like "Why can't they tolerate the noise like those at Don Mueang?"

Ironically, in the early days, it was Ratchanee who consoled her mother using exactly the same words. "I told my mother 'Even those at Don Mueang can continue their lives, so we must be able to, mustn't we?'

"Now I have learned an important lesson: Wherever the thing called progress has reached its claws, there will always be suffering of the people who live there."

And her voice trailed off as the planes above her house, on their way to Suvarnabhumi airport, continued to roar overhead.

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