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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

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