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Friday, July 27, 2007

Board refuses to shorten contract

The board of Airports of Thailand has rejected its management's proposal to shorten the Suvarnabhumi airport security service contract with the Loxley-ICTS consortium, to avoid legal troubles. AOT board chairman Gen Saprang Kalayanamitr said after a board meeting yesterday that the board could not approve the management's proposal to halve the consortium's service contract to five years in response to its substandard security service, as the consortium has made it clear it disagreed with the plan.

The board did not want a legal dispute as the consortium had acquired the contract legally, he said.

Gen Saprang denied the board was protecting the contractor. He said the board was aware of the investment burden taken on by the consortium and would see to justice for both sides.

But he insisted the security service provided by the consortium was still poor and needed to be improved.

Chirmsak Pinthong, spokesman for the AOT board, said the consortium fielded 1,200 guards a day, which was short of the 2,000 stated in the contract.

Their service consisted of two shifts, each consisting of 600 guards who must work as long as 12 hours a day.

The board suspects that this arrangement, instead of three eight-hour shifts, may affect service quality.

The board believed that if the consortium was not able to improve its service in line with the contracted standards, the AOT management should terminate the contract instead of shortening it, Mr Chirmsak said.

However, a source said the board feared such a move could land it in legal trouble with the consortium.

Also, Mr Chirmsak said the board had yesterday resolved to grant 200 million baht to the army, which had sought financial support for its procurement of anti-explosives equipment for use in the deep South. AOT will also lend some of its explosives detectors at Suvarnabhumi and other airports to the army for use in the troubled region


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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Airport security still below par

Six months after receiving low grades from international experts, Airports of Thailand (AoT) still can't make up its mind on how it should improve Suvarnabhumi airport's security.

AoT still says it is open to all possible options, and has taken no action to upgrade the problem.

A highly-placed source at the AoT said the AoT board will meet yet again next Thursday and evaluate the performance of the Loxley-ICTS consortium, its contractor responsible for the security of Suvarnabhumi airport.

Last Jan 6, AoT claimed it had "addressed" security problems, threatening the Loxley-ICTS team that it might terminate its contract. At that time, there were strong fears over airport security because of the New Year's bombing in Bangkok.

Up to now, the consortium has failed to meet its contractual obligations. AoT has already given the consortium a chance to make improvements and the consortium's performance will be evaluated for the second time tomorrow.

Previously, the consortium scored well in the searches category but not in the overall surveillance of the airport.

The substandard service prompted the AoT board to consider shortening the consortium's 10-year contract or separating its search and surveillance contracts to keep only the search deal alive.

However, the board also reserves its right to terminate the contract and find a new contractor or handle the airport's security matters by itself through a subsidiary.

Executives of the consortium have informally negotiated with the representatives of the AoT board. The contractor prefers a change to its contract, not termination.

To deal with possible terror attacks, it would be better for the AoT to follow the suggestion of the International Air Transport Association that it handle the airport's security by itself.

If that is the case, the AoT will have to deploy a unit of temporary security personnel first, before a permanent unit is established for the task.

Chaturongkapol Sodmanee, deputy director of Suvarnabhumi airport, said yesterday that the Loxley-ICTS consortium had made some improvements to its security services which enable it to score 6-7 points on a scale of 10.

Although the contractor has tried to improve its services, AoT can't afford to show any leniency, he said.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Dispute with contractor delays revenue tracking plan

The conflict between Airports of Thailand (AoT) and King Power is delaying the agency's plan to electronically trace the revenue of shops at Suvarnabhumi airport, which will enable the accurate sharing of income between the two parties. The problem was reported to Transport Minister Theera Haocharoen and his deputy Sansern Wongcha-um yesterday when they inspected the Airport Information Management System (Aims) at Suvarnabhumi.

AoT had originally intended to connect Aims to the databases of all shops in the passenger terminal.

The system would allow the airport to keep a record of the income of duty-free shops and other commercial operations, which would ensure that AoT receives its 15% share of any income as stipulated in the contract for commercial operations at the airport.

However, according to an AoT source, the previous board chaired by Srisook Chandrangsu excluded the Aims connection requirement from King Power contracts. AoT later tried to convince King Power to sign up to the system, but the attempt was shelved following legal disputes over King Power's contracts to operate at the airport.

The present AoT board nullified King Power's contracts, a decision which King Power is challenging in court. AoT accused King Power of evading scrutiny under the Public-Private Joint Venture Act in acquiring the right to operate the commercial space.

Acting AoT president Kulya Pakakrong said the point-of-sale income recognition system would be installed at Don Mueang and regional airports first.

The Aims system at Suvarnabhumi was still not ready for implementation.

Mr Sansern said although the hardware and software were ready, AoT had yet to install data relating to its managerial system into Aims, or train staff to run it.

Suvarnabhumi airport director Serirat Prasutanont said AoT had yet to load data concerning the assets of Suvarnabhumi airport into Aims because it was busy with its own reorganisation.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Glomac asked to build warehouses in Thailand

Property developer Glomac Bhd has received offers from several multinational companies (MNCs) involved in the automotive and pharmaceutical sectors to build more warehouse and distribution centres in Thailand.

Group managing director Datuk Fateh Iskandar Tan Sri Mansor said the offers came in the wake of the successful completion of the RM110 million warehouse near the Bangna-Trad highway in the Samutprakarn province here.

“The logistics and distribution businesses are picking up in Thailand, especially those near the Suvarnabhumi Airport. Several MNCs we met have asked us whether we can build such facilities for them,” he said after the opening of the warehouse here today.

Also present were the deputy governor of Samutprakarn province, Kamtorn Tavornsatit, Glomac group executive chairman and chief executive officer Tan Sri Mansor Fateh Din and WHA Glomac Alliance chairman Somyos Anantaprayoon.

The 55,000 sq m warehouse was built by WHA Glomac Alliance, which is 49 per cent owned by Glomac and 51 per cent by WHA Holding Co Ltd, a leading Thai company in warehousing and logistics services.

The company has signed a lease agreement with renowned international pharmaceutical company Diethelm Ltd for 15 years.

Thailand is the second overseas venture for Glomac after Australia.

Fateh said although Glomac is exploring the possibility of expanding the warehouse business, the idea is still being discussed due to the sudden rise in land prices in the areas which are closer to the Suvarnabhumi Airport.

“We have to be very sure when doing business overseas although we were successful with the first project here. We will look at the proposals and do feasibility studies,” he added.

Fateh also said the company is ready to sell the warehouse if the price is right.

“We are not sentimental about buildings. If there is an appreciation of 20 to 30 per cent, we will sell,” he said.

With the experience gained here, Fateh said, Glomac will also look at the possibility of building warehouse and logistics centres in Malaysia.

Diethelm general manager for healthcare Bernd Lepper said the warehouse, the company’s biggest in Southeast Asia, will be used as a distribution centre for Thailand as well as other countries in the region like Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.

Infrastructure seen halting India's aviation boom

India may be among the most happening places in the global aviation field, but its poor airport infrastructure is a major cause of concern and even threatens to retard the robust growth in the sector, international experts say.

With some 400 new aircraft set to join the fleet of Indian carriers at an estimated cost of $80 billion and potential annual passenger traffic set to soar to 180 million over the next few years from the present 50 million, experts say the whole system can crumble if attention is not paid to improving airport infrastructure.

"India is going through a huge change in the aviation market. But it also has a challenging path ahead," said Jaan Albrecht, chief executive of Star Alliance, the world's largest airline alliance with 17 carriers as members.

"For the kind of investment airlines in India are putting into buying aircraft, simulators and other associated areas, the government must ensure this money is matched by the airport infrastructure," Albrecht told IANS on the margins of a global aviation meet here.

Experts say infrastructure is also coming in the way of India realising its full tourism potential, struggling to go beyond four million per annum, though some smaller countries like Thailand and Singapore are attracting lots more.

"India is a great country with glorious culture and heritage but unable to cash in fully on the global tourism interest because of poor infrastructure," said aviation expert and commentator Kok Chwee Sim. "India needs to improve all the facilities at its the airports, including multi-layer security."

"One should understand that efficient security check at one point is much better than ineffective security at 10 places. The stories about passengers being stranded at airports during winter and the rainy season in India are horrific."

Experts cite the example of the Suvarnabhumi Airport here as an example of how good and modernised airports can give an overall boost to business and tourism and compare it with the rundown Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi.

Suvarnabhumi, built some 10 years ago, is equipped with as many as 202 passport control checkpoints, 34 customs control checkpoints, 22 baggage conveyor belts, 460 check-in counters, 107 moving walkways, 102 elevators and 83 escalators.

While Delhi airport is plagued with regular traffic congestions, the airport here ensures smooth service with 120 parking bays, five of which can accommodate the Airbus A380 aircraft and handle 76 flights per hour.

In a similar vein, Paul Martin, director Southeast Asia and Indian subcontinent of Amadeus, a global travel distribution system, says bad airports and lack of hotel rooms will eventually halt India's travel and tourism growth.

"No other country is witnessing this kind of growth in its travel trade sector. But India's infrastructure shortcomings are pulling it back. All players in the sector should work together to overcome it," Martin told IANS.

But there are silver linings too, said Pradeep Panicker, vice president and head of strategic planning of the GMR group that has the mandate to modernise Delhi airport.

He says the Indira Gandhi International Airport will have an interim terminal ready by 2008 to ease traffic till a third terminal comes up by 2010. "The airport's capacity will more than double to 37 million per year," he said.

The Delhi Metro and a six-lane highway will connect with the twin floor terminal and the airport will have 65 aerobridges, which will accommodate 90 percent of the airport traffic.

"It will also have 130 check-in counters, 21 self-check counters, 72 immigration counters, 15 X-Ray screening areas, four wide-body handling belts and two normal belts for international passengers."

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Viva Suvarnabhumi

When the Prime Minister of an immediate neighbour and one of the most important countries in the east arrived in Delhi, our newspapers were full of Gordon Brown assuming power in London and some even reported about how his wife will be different from Cherie Blair in her public appearances and behaviour. So much is the western fixation, nay a hangover of the colonial era.

Thailand is not only a very significant strategic partner of India but has long been a cherished cultural and civilisational friend. Its Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont arrived in Delhi with a high-power political and business delegation this Tuesday. His visit marks an important milestone in bilateral relations and the Thai delegation will discuss what has been on India's wish list for long – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the Bay of Bengal Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Co-operation (Bimstec), and the Mekong-Ganga Co-operation project – sub-regional groupings of which India and Thailand are members. The Thai PM is accompanied by his foreign minister, commerce minister and energy minister too, indicating how important the visit is.

It's ironical that we tend to appear arrogantly ignorant of the importance of winning the hearts of our neighbours. The eastern side especially, is completely missing from our television channels and papers, though they are the vital ports to strengthen our trade, business and security sectors. None of our newspaper barons have found it useful to have full-time correspondents in any of the eastern countries to report from Bangkok, Laos, Vientiane, or Angkor Wat.

The entire East Asian block is left at the mercy of western and Chinese news agencies and we have opted to understand our closest and friendliest neighbour through American, British and Chinese interpretations.

On the other hand, China has taken a lead in this region and emerged as the 'legitimate' heir of the Buddhist circuit. It's the growing Chinese presence in the economic, business and social sector in the entire eastern belt, once known the world over as the Suvarnabhumi region, that finally shook India from its deep slumber and for the first time, P V Narasimha Rao, the forgotten warrior of the Congress, formulated the Look East policy which was taken forward by the Vajpayee government in a big way and Jaswant Singh crafted a brilliant and effective format to further strengthen it.

Historically and culturally, eastern Asia has been a Hindu influence region. The biggest temple of the Hindus is not in India but in Cambodia -- namely Angkor Wat. And the best part of it is that these countries feel proud of their Indian connection because that was built thorough love, compassion and friendly cultural links.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Politicians accused of seeking bribes

FBI report identifies prominent figures in bomb-scanner scandal

Graft busters have received a report from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that identifies prominent politicians who demanded bribes for the procurement of CTX 9000 bomb scanners for Suvarnabhumi Airport.

"The FBI outlined pertinent negotiations on the CTX deal and revealed the discovery of the US Justice Department to confirm Thai politicians were involved in the bribe demands," a source said.

The FBI report was sent to an investigative panel appointed by the Assets Examination Committee (AEC) to uncover culprits in the CTX deal. It is being translated from English and will be used as prosecution evidence.

The source said that in spite of the incriminating evidence supplied by the FBI, the panel was not expecting to conclude its report any time soon because of the difficulty in getting testimony from some witnesses.

After months of searching, the panel only recently found the address of a Japanese man suspected of acting as a broker for bribes in the deal.

The man used to work with a contractor for the airport and was targeted for graft indictments by the AEC.

In a related development, the AEC-appointed Amnuay Tantara subcommittee will meet on August 24 to review an appeal to release Bt100 million of frozen assets linked to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The appeal was lodged on Tuesday by Chinnicha Wongsa-wat, daughter of Thaksin's sister Yaowapa Wongsawat.

Meanwhile, lawyer Somsak Toraksa yesterday submitted former defence minister Thamarak Isarangura's written testimony on his role in the Cabinet resolution approving the Bt90-million rubber saplings project.

The AEC is conducting a hearing on graft indictments stemming from the controversial project as part of pre-trial preparations.

AoT to take legal action against King Power

Group 'fails to meet all safety requirements'

Airports of Thailand (AoT) board will take legal action against King Power Duty Free and King Power Suvarnabhumi Co for failing to relocate shops which block fire exits at Suvarnabhumi airport. AoT board member and spokesman Chirmsak Pinthong said after the board meeting chaired by Gen Saprang Kalayanamitr yesterday that the board has asked AoT to take legal action against King Power group in order to remove those King Power outlets as soon as possible.

The board had told King Power group twice to remove outlets blocking fire exits, he said. The 30-day deadline had now passed. The group had relocated some outlets but failed to meet all AoT safety requirements, despite a warning letter issued by the agency.

Mr Chirmsak said the AoT could not compromise its safety requirements, nor allow the group to defer relocating outlets any longer.

''What if a fire breaks out and people are hurt or killed. Who would take responsibility?'' Mr Chirmsak said, adding that AoT would be liable. The AoT board was unhappy with progress made on relocation, he said.

More importantly, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) had made clear its concerns about the airport's safety.

IATA recently handed its safety study of Suvarnabhumi to AoT. The study says Suvarnabhumi's standards are inferior to those of Don Mueang airport.

It is the board's policy that any unsafe areas must be made safe as soon as possible, Mr Chirmsak said.

The legal action which AoT will take is not related to the lawsuit which King Power group has filed against the AoT board to oppose revocation of its contract, he added. The board has also asked the Engineering Institute of Thailand to assess the airport's safety conditions in case of fire.

AoT will advance the consultation fee to the Engineering Institute and seek reimbursement from King Power group later, said Mr Chirmsak.

A consultation fee of 5.58 million baht would be paid, said Suvarnabhumi director Serirat Prasutanont.

On the lawsuit against King Power, Mr Serirat said he will talk to AoT's legal department on the procedures which AoT will take to initiate the lawsuit.

Mr Serirat said the airport has told King Power to relocate its outlets from 20 spots. Only 10 spots met the required standard, the other 10 did not.

Acting AoT managing director Kalaya Pakakong said the board yesterday approved a new AoT structure which will take effect in October. All AoT airports will now have a commercial department to manage airport revenue, she said.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Upgrade Suvarnabhumi security: ICAO

After inspecting Bangkok's world-class Suvarnabhumi international airport for 10 days, officials of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) have recommended that the security system at the airport opened last year to great fanfare should be upgraded.

Chaisak Angkasuwan, director-general of Thailand's Aviation Department, said ICAO officials arrived in Thailand on June 17 and inspected security systems at Suvarnabhumi airport as well as at other airports in Thailand.

The ICAO officials recommended that the security system provided at Suvarnabhumi airport is scattered and should be centralised. Airports of Thailand (AoT) officials must also be strict on checking identification cards of people entering or leaving the airport, according to Mr. Chaisak.

Also, ICAO officials proposed that officials of the Aviation Department be empowered to both close areas inside any airport and suspend flights which they consider might cause danger to passengers, he said.

They also advised that the status of the Aviation Department be upgraded to function as the 'Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand' as an independent agency to tackle the brain drain of the country's human resource pool which might otherwise be available, said Mr. Chaisak, adding that his department may hire the ICAO to conduct a feasibility study on restructuring the agency.

ICAO inspectors will report their findings to their headquarters in Montreal, Canada, within 20 days and will dispatch an official report to Thailand in the next 60 days. Thailand then has 90 days to submit questions, if any, on security system and must prepare plans to improve the system within 120 days thereafter.

ICAO and McGill University in Montreal will host a Worldwide Conference on Aviation Safety, Security and the Environment focusing on "The Way Forward" to be held in September. (TNA)

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