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Friday, December 28, 2007

Suvarnabhumi residents to petition UN

Airports of Thailand's Chiang Mai office is investigating a complaint from German businessman Rainer Gassenschmidt about broken and dislodged roof tiles on his house he said were caused by Thai Airways International flight TG 110 flying too low on Dec 12.

Irate residents affected by aircraft noise around Suvarnabhumi airport say they plan to petition the United Nations next Thursday.

They say there has been no progress in implementing the plan agreed by the government and the tripartite committee to compensate and assist them.

Wanchat Manathamsombat, the residents' leader, said they want the world community to know about their ordeal and how they have been neglected by the government.

Mr Wanchat said the residents decided they would petition the UN after the New Year when the cabinet failed to consider assistance earlier this week.

This showed the Transport Ministry and the other agencies were not sincere in their promises.

Transport Ministry officials had told the residents to wait for the next cabinet meeting on Jan 3, Mr Wanchat said.

Deputy Transport Minister Sansern Wongcha-um said the ministry would put its plan to assist aircraft-noise affected residents to the economic ministers' screening committee chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Kosit Panpiemras.

If the committee approved the plan, it would be presented to the cabinet for approval.

Details needing cabinet approval include zones affected by aircraft noise, entitlements of residents who moved in after airport construction began in 2001, and compensation criteria.

Transport permanent secretary Chaisa-wat Kittipornpaibul said after a meeting with residents' representatives that problems with documents and procedures had prevented officials from buying houses and paying compensation.

For this reason, residents were being asked to wait for a while, as negotiations on compensation were time consuming.

A source in the Transport Ministry said it expected the residents to eventually file complaints with the Administrative Court, which is one of the options that would help to quickly end the compensation dispute.

Residents of Chiang Mai's Mae Hia district, home to the city's airport, already plan to petition the Administrative Court to order compensation for the damage caused to their roofs by aircraft noise.

The residents claim Thai Airways International flight TG 110 flew too low over their houses on Dec 12 and the vibrations from the plane damaged their rooftops.

German businessman Rainer Gassenschmidt and his wife Supaporn have filed a complaint with the Chiang Mai office of Airports of Thailand office on behalf of residents of Nimmannoradee housing estate, which is under the airport flight path.

Mrs Supaporn said the complaint was lodged a fortnight ago, but they have still to receive any response from AoT.

Source : Bangkokpost

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Airport-area residents seek halt to flights

Residents affected by noise pollution around Suvarnabhumi airport filed a lawsuit at the Administrative Court, asking it to ban air traffic at the airport between 10pm and 5am.

About 50 residents went to the court on Wednesday morning, saying that the period should be their rest time.

Chaisak Angsuwan, director-general of the Aviation Department, admitted that Thai economics especially aviation business will be greatly affected if the court grants the residents emergency protection and bans the air traffic between the time.

Airport of Thailand (AOT) chief executive Chana U-sathaporn said he was worried.. The matter will be brought into a board meeting on Thursday for urgent discussion.

Air Marshal Chana insisted AOT is not neglecting the complaints of residents, adding that it is willing to pay them compensation if new studies show they should have higher payment.

He said AOT has set aside a budget of about 3 to 4 billion baht or so to cover the compensation cost.

The airport debate

I can understand Thai Airways International's refusal to return to Don Mueang. Their investment at Suvarnabhumi is heavy. On the other hand, I can understand that a split between domestic and international flights is highly impractical for travellers.

I also realise that many travellers would love to use Don Mueang again. I have used Suvarnabhumi once and all I can say is that it is hugely impractical in all respects. Parking is far away, walking distances in the building are enormous, architecture is cold and the long concrete corridor near the gates is claustrophobia-inducing. Reminds me of a bomb shelter.

As Suvarnabhumi is doomed to be a white elephant, it would be a smart move to return all passenger operations to an updated and improved Don Mueang and convert Suvarnabhumi to a cargo-only airport. This would be a very logical solution as the Eastern Seaboard is not only highly industrialised, but is also home to Thailand's largest deep-sea port not far away.



The stem cell debate

I read with interest the article on "The stem cell debate" and, once again, the major ethical and moral issue in the stem cell debate is allowing people without basic scientific knowledge to write about stem cells.

From the article, it is intentionally unclear what type of stem cells we are talking about! Is it embryonic stem cells, fetal stem cells or adult stem cells from the person's own bone marrow, own umbilical cord blood, or own peripheral blood?

The first two categories of embryonic and fetal stem cells respectively raise ethical and moral concerns, and if the article is about those, then it should be clearly stated from the beginning. At all times when the public is addressed, the author must clearly define what kinds of stem cells are being debated to avoid confusion and conscious or unconscious misleading of the readers - unless the aim of the article is indeed to create confusion!

We develop from one single totipotent stem cell and our human body harbours adult stem cells since the first day of our lives and into long age. Those adult stem cells participate in the homeostasis of all our tissues and organs, aiding and promoting repair and regeneration. Initially and immediately at birth, blood from the umbilical cord can be collected and adult stem cells can be separated and cryo-preserved in the form of umbilical cord blood (UCB) stem cells. Those UCB stem cells are the source most readily available worldwide without pain or risk for the involved parties, most cost-effective and without ethical considerations.

Other stem cell sources available throughout life are the bone marrow (BM) and peripheral blood (PB) as a G-CSF stimulated extension of the former. Today, an estimated 45,000 to 50,000 hematopoietic stem cell transplants (blood or marrow transplants BMT), using predominantly autologous (patient's own) and related allogeneic (from within the patient's family) rather than unrelated allogeneic (unrelated donor), are performed annually worldwide to treat patients with life-threatening malignant and non-malignant diseases. Sixty per cent of all bone marrow transplants worldwide are autologous (patient's own stem cells) and similarly 80% of all allogeneic transplants come from within the greater family of the patient.

Cord blood stem cells have now surpassed the use of bone marrow and peripheral blood according to the April 2007 issue of the British Journal of Hematology. In Thailand, 80% of all transplants in children between 1997 and 2005 were either autologous or related allogeneic; that means either the patient's own stem cells or stem cells from within the family - the reason being tissue compatibility.

Our bone marrow is a magnificent factory regularly and constantly renewing the constituents of our blood system throughout life and increasingly appears to be a reservoir of immature cells that possibly take part in various regenerative and repair functions in our body.

Decreased levels of circulating endothelial progenitor cells (EPC)/CD34+ stem cells are now recognised as important indicators of cardiovascular disease and may have initiating roles in the pathogenesis of all diabetic complications and cardiovascular disease, and seem to convey cumulative cardiovascular risks better than Body Mass Index, diastolic blood pressure and total cholesterol.

Those observations inevitably and intuitively lead us to innovative therapeutic thoughts. Will modulation of EPC/CD34+ levels and function aid us to overcome the clinical needs and challenges in the 21st century created by changes in longevity and lifestyle, notably diabetes, cardio- and cerebrovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson's and Alzheimer's) and joint ailments? In that case, is replacement with autologous ex vivo expanded/enriched EPC or pharmacological stimulation of the endogenous cells the best way to go?

The former would be possible if previous autologous storage at birth or at a young age before the development of the disease, was available to avoid the profound impairment of EPC in established diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The latter could happen in two ways, one being physical exercise and administration of ACE inhibitors, statins and glitazones all known to stimulate EPC generation. Alternatively, classic G-CSF stimulation, autologous PBSC collection and consequent implantation around the areas needing regeneration and vasculogenesis could happen in both established disease or with previously stored autologous healthy and non-diseased PBSCs.

Future research on all the above-mentioned parameters will show us the way to proceed. Cord blood stem cells are now increasingly viewed as the capital ingredient for future cellular therapies in regenerative medicine, and may revolutionise the way we treat our society's major ailments and medical threats without causing any heated ethical debates.

The discussion should focus on early parental education regarding available alternatives and on the ethical dilemma created by the possibility of discarding cord blood stem cells rather than on whether or who should store it.


Specialist in Endocrinology and Diabetes

MD, PhD in Immunology and Endocrinology

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Thailand Airports profits not so high

The latest profit report for the Airports of Thailand (AOT) shows that fiscal year 2006/07 wasn’t as good as the last, with 90% fall in profit largely due to depreciation and massive maintenance costs.

Profit for the year ending on the 30th of September, 2007 came in at THB1.09 billion (USD33 million) sharply down when compared to the same period ending in 2006 which achieved THB10.5 billion.

This lukewarm result came even though AOT recorded a 20% surge in revenue profits, which were boosted from charging airlines more in airport fees.

But any gains made in that area where negated due to costs lifting by a whopping 91%.

According to a statement made by AOT, this was largely attributed to depreciation and maintenance at the new Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.

News of the smaller profit saw AOT shares fall by 0.86% on close of trading on the day of the announcement.

Court refuses night flight ban at Suvarnabhumi airport

BANGKOK, Nov 30 (TNA) - The Central Administrative Court has rejected a petition lodged by people around Suvarnabhumi international airport to prohibit night-time flights which they claimed generated noise pollution in the neighborhood.

The Central Administrative Court turned down the petition lodged by 359 residents who desperately cited noise pollution caused by landings and take-offs of airliners. They were calling for the termination of 166 flights,
mostly international, scheduled between 10 pm and 5 am daily.

However, the court ruled the international flights at Suvarnabhumi airport could not be called off at the expense of passenger inconveniences and Thailand's credibility in the eyes of foreigners visiting the country daily.

International flights were scheduled six months in advance by a world aviation body in Canada in order to accommodate bookings and flight plans.

It was instead suggested Suvarnabhumi residents call on the Airports of Thailand (AoT) or other authorities, to pay compensation for any damage caused by the airliners traffic. The airline companies might possibly share the cost of compensation for those affected by noise pollution. (TNA)-E008

Theera reluctant to use Don Mueang

Despite calls for more flights to use the old airport, Transport Minister Theera Haocharoen and his deputy are reluctant to use Don Mueang and have advised the Airports of Thailand (AoT) to make better use of Suvarnabhumi.

The AoT board on Saturday decided to use Don Mueang for both local and international flights so the AoT would not be faced with the immediate and costly expansion of the congested Suvarnabhumi.

Adm Theera said the plan needed careful consideration, and should take into account the national interests and the promotion of Suvarnabhumi airport as a regional transport hub.

The minister believes good management alone can increase the capacity of Suvarnabhumi from 45 million to 50 million passengers annually.

Deputy Minister Sansern Wongcha-um said the AoT needed to review its plans and look at the views of airlines, technical aviation limitations and make a clear expansion plan for Suvarnabhumi.

According to Mr Sansern, airlines would be inconvenienced if their connecting flights are returned to Don Mueang, and that could affect the goal of Suvarnabhumi airport becoming a regional air transport hub.

Mr Sansern wants the AoT to clearly state how Suvarnabhumi will function in the next five years so airlines will know if they must return to Suvarnabhumi airport from Don Mueang.

He warned the AoT that it was not easy to run two airports in the capital. Technical limitations would stop Don Mueang reaching its former annual capacity of 33 million passengers, he said.

Charnnarong Chuacharoen, the business director of Aeronautical Radio of Thailand Co, said air traffic controllers would have to be more cautious if both Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang were to operate simultaneously.

They are close to each other and their runway alignments converge, he said.

At present, Don Mueang is used mainly in the daytime, while Suvarnabhumi is used more at night. There are not many flights taking off or landing at the same time from both airports, so there is not too much pressure on air traffic control, he said.

If both airports operate together, Don Mueang will not reach its full capacity because Bangkok's air traffic will be congested and flights will have to wait longer in queues, said Mr Charnnarong.

No study has been done on the appropriate amount of traffic for Don Mueang, and that will affect Bangkok's overall air transport services and traffic control, he said.

The AoT board also decided on Saturday to expand Phuket International airport, which has seen an increase in traffic, especially chartered flights, in the past two years. The airport now handles 5.4 million passengers annually.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Innovative PPP

The People Power party have demonstrated remarkable lateral problem-solving abilities with their advert in the Bangkok Post. They are trumpeting a Cheap Housing project on the outskirts of Bangkok near a train station whose line connects to the heart of Bangkok.

I am both surprised and delighted to hear that the rail link to Suvarnabhumi will be completed soon after the election and that a settlement agreeable to all parties will be reached with the residents, allowing the new tenants access to the unwanted property under the flight path.

This is truly an innovative solution, with the potential to diffuse accelerating populist costs.

Prachai wants to scrap airport expressway

Matchimathipataya party leader Prachai Leophairatana on Saturday went to meet residents of Onnuj Road area in eastern Bangkok, promising them that in the event he becomes prime minister, he will scrap a planned expressway that will be built in the area.

Mr Prachai received a warm welcome, as residents there are concerned about that the M1 expressway, which connects with the Suvarnabhumi airport, will be built in the area.

He ensured them that the project will be scrapped if he wins the premiership.

He is scheduled to meet residents of nearby Bang Na district later this evening.

AoT profits plummet 90%

Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) saw its net profit for the financial year to Sept 30 nosedive 90% year-on-year to 1.09 billion baht, the lowest in five years, due mainly to the negative effects of Suvarnabhumi Airport.

The 70% state-owned airport monopoly blamed the poor performance on a huge increase in depreciation costs, a jump in interest payments, and unrecognised concession fees from the duty-free operator King Power.

''These three items, costing AoT more than 11 billion baht together, are largely key contributors (to the fall in profit),'' AoT senior executive vice-president Kulya Pakakrong said yesterday.

Depreciation and amortisation in the period from October 2006 to September 2007 shot up 454.23% to 6.35 billion baht, as expenses related to Suvarnabhumi started to appear on the balance sheets.

Bangkok's new international airport opened on Sept 28, 2006, at the very end of AoT's last financial year.

An interest expense of 2.39 billion baht was paid in the past year for loans borrowed for the construction of the airport and the Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel. Such items were recognised as assets during the construction period and are now regarded as expenditures. Lack of recognition of revenues from King Power caused AoT's concession revenue to drop 50.97% to 2.09 billion baht.

The revenues, amounting to about three billion baht a year, are the subject of continuing litigation between AoT and the duty-free and commercial space operator for breach of contract.

AoT said its operating revenues in the year rose 20.08% to 19.5 billion baht, boosted by a 28.37% rise in aeronautical revenues to 2.9 billion baht. The increase resulted partly from air traffic growth and from the increase in passenger service fees (airport taxes), landing and parking charges during the year.

But operating expenses rose 91% to 17.99 billion baht, mainly due to the commercial operational start-up of Suvarnabhumi, including 454 million baht for repairs and maintenance of the new airport.

The stronger baht also reduced AoT's foreign-exchange gain in the year to 2.8 billion baht from 4.19 billion a year earlier.

Mrs Kulya said that the results should not come as a shock as they were expected by institutional investors and analysts who were aware of the difficulties at the 155-billion-baht airport.

AOT shares closed yesterday on the Stock Exchange of Thailand at 57 baht, down 50 satang, in trade worth 62.15 million baht.

Court refuses to bar Suvarnabhumi night flights

The Supreme Administrative Court refused a demand by Suvarnabhumi airport residents to ground all flights at night to give them a respite from the noise.

The court sympathised but said it has no authority to suspend the night flights, as such a decision would pose major problems to global airlines and will cause economic damage.

The decision followed the demand by 359 residents who wanted domestic and international flights at Suvarnabhumi airport grounded from 10pm to 5am so they can get a proper night's sleep.

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