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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ripping Suvarnabhumi

Thai Airways International president Apinan Sumanseni has touched off a major controversy with "dangerous" criticism of Suvarnabhumi Airport for failing to live up to its potential as a regional cargo and tourism hub.

At a recent session of the National Legislative Assembly's Transport Committee, the president said that the new airport had only benefited airlines, while failing to help the Thai people.

The subcommittee, which is chaired by Adm Banawit Kengrian, was also surprised when Apinan Sumanseni remarked that the airport's customs free zones had been a failure.

Mr Apinan's comments were criticised by subcommittee members, including veteran aviation expert Chusak Bhachaiyud, who is the former senior vice-president for the technical department at THAI.

Mr Chusak questioned the THAI president's understanding and attitude on the role of the airport in contributing to national development.

"It is extremely dangerous if the chief executive of our national carrier subscribes to such an unusual view which is contrary to common logic," Mr Chusak told the Bangkok Post.

"And why on earth are so many countries in the region competing against one another to become the regional aviation hub? Nobody ever questioned the benefits of being an aviation hub."

In his note to Adm Banawit, the former THAI executive said that the goal of being a hub was to attract carriers to the airport and encourage tourism. Thailand, he said, would benefit greatly if airlines fly here instead of Hong Kong, Singapore or Malaysia.

Likewise, the concept of customs free zones in streamlining air cargo shipments has been applied to several airports in the region including Hong Kong, Osaka, Incheon, Singapore and Hong Kong, where they have contributed to their attempts to be logistics and cargo transshipment centres, he explained.

"[A customs free zone at Suvarnabhumi] not only benefits shippers, but also other parties in the chain including farmers, whose produce is exported," he said.

He added that operational flaws that prevent the customs free zone at Suvarnabhumi from running efficiently did not mean the facility was useless, as implied by the Thai president.

Many regional airports are continuously expanding their airports to make them regional air hubs, he said.

For instance, Singapore Changi airport is due to open its third terminal on Jan 9 next year

International passengers and freight in transit through Suvarnabhumi represent about 5% of traffic through the airport, according to AoT figures.

By Boonsong Kositchotethana

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