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Saturday, September 22, 2007

An earful of AoT advice

The three wind chimes don't work. Despite the "good" advice in the new manual produced by the Airports of Thailand (AoT), the set of chimes hanging at Somjai Panyanasonthi's house can only produce thin plaintive sounds that in no way block the thundering noise of aircraft flying over her roof every two minutes or so.

Thanks to the creativity of the Environment Section at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, the Pride of Thais, a new guidebook has been published and distributed to the residents living nearby. The Thai title can be roughly translated as "How to live with the airport happily." The cover shows a group of smiling men and women, boys and girls, holding hands against the background illustration of the multi-billion-baht airport. Despite her house being situated right next to the runway, and in arguably the loudest zone of the flight corridor, Mrs Somjai says she has not received the manual. (The AoT has not given even a pair of ear plugs to the ageing lady; there is no need to talk about any other compensation.)

On reflection, that would have been a blessing in disguise. Somehow, Mrs Somjai has miraculously managed to bear with the noise and other types of pollution for almost a year (although her father-in-law died shortly after the airport went into operation). But she might get a sudden heart attack if she happened to lay her hands on this new AoT manual. The preface begins with a "heartfelt" greeting from AoT. Numerous mitigation measures, it says, have been implemented for the surrounding communities, the guidebook being just the latest effort. The running theme in all these goodwill gestures is to help the locals learn how to "live well and happily with our airport".

The following five chapters further reveal the brilliant mind of the author(s). The first stresses how we need to develop a new airport to compete with other world-class airports in Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Hong Kong. Suvarnabhumi Airport is "the airport of opportunities - for us to become the true aviation hub of Asia". (The book was published before the recent move to relocate some of the non-connecting international flights back to Don Mueang Airport on the grounds it would help "relieve the congestion" at Suvarnabhumi. Perhaps our hub is growing too quickly.)

The second chapter, headlined "Noises from airplanes", is a real gem. The two tables presented here try to "clarify" the different types of sound, giving rough estimates of the potential volume and how they might translate into the much-cited Noise Exposure Forecast (NEF). Interestingly, for the NEF 30 range, which some academics say is already a health hazard, the example given is "ordinary conversation". NEF 40 is compared to the noise emitted by "a vacuum cleaner" and for NEF 50, that produced by a "washing machine". No wonder the AoT does not think Mrs Somjai needs any ear plugs.

Talking about this protective hearing aid, another poster produced and distributed by the Ministry of Public Health could seriously rival the AoT's manual in terms of creativity. (Again, Mrs Somjai has been happily excluded.) The bold letters on the colourful poster state: "Loud noise can be prevented." There is a die-cut picture of a man with the accompanying caption explaining how to wear the ear plugs correctly. For the right ear, you have to raise your left arm to reach the top rim of the right ear, stretch it up, and squeeze the ear plug into the hole. Do the same with the left ear. There, you have it. Now you cannot even hear the Boeing right above your head, eh?

Back to the AoT's book. The remaining chapters go into technical detail about how to adjust your homes to block out the airplane noises. The thorough recommendations - from how to improve the windows and doors to the best type of air-conditioners to install in your bedroom - are proof of the utmost concern of our airport authority (although it tactfully skips over who should pay the increased electricity bills).

But the ultimate highlight is in the last two pages: "The quick and simple remedy to tackle noise problems, when the disturbance is not excessive, is to use other noises to divert one's attention from the airplane noises, such as [installing] walls of waterfalls, fountains, or put up bells or wind chimes. Or to perform various activities such as aerobic dance, computer games, karaoke singing and so on." But over the past year, Mrs Somjai has learned that the wind chimes certainly do not work. Perhaps she might try aerobics or karaoke music?

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