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Suvarnabhumi Airport : Flight Status

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.

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