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Suvarnabhumi Airport : Flight Status

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Travel businesses urge coalition to act

Tourism operators called on the new coalition government to address lingering problems that have harmed the sector relative to regional neighbours.

Chanin Donavanik, the president of the Thai Hotels Association, said tourism operators hoped that the new tourism minister would be experienced in the industry, and would be able to address existing problems properly.

"We're pinning hopes on the new government after having had a lot of problems in the past 15-16 months with the interim government. That's why we don't want to waste time anymore," he said.

The new government should promote long-term, sustainable growth for the entire industry. Big-spending projects such as the Night Safari and Royal Flora Ratchaphruek in Chiang Mai should have continuing activities to draw more tourists.

They also urged the government to adequately fund the Tourism Authority of Thailand to promote the country both locally and in markets abroad.

Prakit Chinamourpong, the THA's vice-president, said the government should also improve security at Suvarnabhumi airport. "Safety is a very sensitive issue for tourists. The report that a break-in by a Burmese stowaway in Suvarnabhumi Airport ... was a question of safety standards for Thailand," he said.

Tourism leaders also pressed the government to address continuing problems at Suvarnabhumi and called for a second runway to ease overcrowding.

Mr Chanin noted that hotels and tourism-related operators would face challenges this year due mainly to the impact of the US sub-prime mortgage crisis and rising oil prices.

The global and Thai economies would be affected by a US recession. This would hurt the tourism sector and cause tourists to suspend their travel plans.

"We have to work harder and the pricing strategy will work to attract tourists in some cases. Competition will get tougher as more five-star hotels will be opened with an additional 15,000 rooms this year," he said.

Suvarnabhumi must be fixed

The incoming government has a lot on its plate, and a lot of special-interest groups pushing their pet projects. But for a number of good reasons, Prime Minister-designate Samak Sundaravej and his cabinet-in-waiting need to put an urgent item on their primary to-do list.

The problems at Suvarnabhumi airport are beginning to unravel. The traveling public seem to be at risk, the airport employees are unhappy, and the taxpayer is uninformed, puzzled about how this most high-level status symbol has gone so wrong. After 15 months of periodic reports of carelessness, incompetence and possibly worse, the news just keeps getting worse. Last week, a Burmese refugee somehow walked into the heavily restricted, supposedly guarded areas where the jetliners park. Yesterday, reporters of this newspaper detailed the astounding fact that almost a third of the lights at the airport are out. One could be excused for wondering just whether this expensive, showpiece, gateway to Thailand is reliable at all. At the rate airport equipment, services and security are deteriorating, Suvarnabhumi seems to be taking shape as a gigantic white elephant.

The worst problem is airport security. The public, the airlines and numerous foreign embassies and organisations are close to the end of their patience. There has been no accounting and little explanation of how a Burmese man strolled onto an empty Turkish Airlines jet inside a supposedly high-security parking area. Authorities explained they were unable to determine what happened because the 27-year-old refugee had given conflicting accounts of his actions. To call this account unprofessional is kind. No imagination is necessary to realise the extreme danger to life, limb and property of such carelessness.

Yet, airport director Sereerat Prasutanont said he didn't know if the man broke through a fence, hid in a supply vehicle, or mingled with airport workers. That means he believes a would-be terrorist gang, for example, could use any of these methods.

Airports of Thailand has admitted poor security on several occasions, last July for example. That was when AoT could not make up its mind how to improve airport security, beyond yet another reprimand to the Loxley-ICTS consortium responsible for the lack of protection. Most international airlines, untrusting of the AoT facilities, perform their own security checks on passengers. But this is no confidence builder. As a Burmese refugee showed, a violent person or gang bent on mayhem can easily penetrate the airport and airplanes.

The irony of the Burmese man's intrusion was soon clear. Mr Sereerat assured the public that his staff would increase security measures. He promised more patrols and better lighting to spot any future intruders.

That was two days before the airport admitted that the lights were going off all over the airport. Some 2,000 of the 7,200 bulbs are burnt out or broken, and not a baht is available to buy new ones. So for the immediate future at least, the chances of better security at Suvarnabhumi have become darker _ literally.

Normally, travellers would overlook the niggling, maddening things that go wrong at Suvarnabhumi. But many of these have been mismanaged beyond description _ and too often, there have been cynical reactions, and suspicions that money is changing hands under the table. The so-called ''black licence'' taxis operate under obvious protection of certain authorities _ unregulated, unmetered and a known hazard to life and limb. Contrary to assurances before the airport opened, there are indescribably long lines at immigration counters, but fewer than a third are staffed; again, there is supposedly no budget.

As the old saw goes: ''The whole world is watching.'' The airport clearly suffered from major corruption while it was built. Contractors cut too many corners. Successive governments opened the facility before it was ready. Suvarnabhumi is not only a gateway to Thailand, but the Thai gateway to the world. It can take a few weeks for an airport to gain a worldwide reputation as unsafe and badly managed. It would take years to reverse such an impression.

Suvarnabhumi deserves to be on the new government's priority list for urgent attention. The safety of millions and the country's reputation are at stake.

Friday, January 18, 2008

High-flying radials

With Saraburi being home to one of only three Michelin aircraft-tyre plants in the world, we decided to ask a senior executive about the Kingdom's place in the firm's global sales strategy and learn some facts about an SUV radial looking like a children's toy

Welcome to the world of the aircraft tyre.

If it's the in-trend Airbus A380, which clipped a wing tip at Suvarnabhumi last September, then we're talking some staggering specs. The tyres for this massive airliner have a diameter of 54 inches; the largest ones we in Motoring have ever encountered are the 32- to 35-inchers used on 4x4, off-road vehicles.

The radials for the A380 suck in 220 pounds per square inch (psi) of pure nitrogen so that moisture doesn't cling to the 850,000-baht rims when the plane's flying at 35,000 feet. (As well as inhibiting corrosion, nitrogen won't support combustion should an explosion occur in mid-air.). Compare that to a puny psi of 30 for your average land vehicle.

The A380 has 10 pairs of tyres. At an estimated price tag per radial of 204,000 baht, that brings the bill for tyres alone to a cool 4.08 million baht. Each tyre is normally expected to carry a load of up to 34,000kg, but should its partner fail it can bear double that weight. The load capacity of a car tyre ranges from 500 to 1,300kg and it can cost anywhere between 5,000 and 20,000 baht for a set of four.

"The nomenclature is totally different for aircraft and automobile tyres. I have no idea what 205/60 R15 means because I've never sold a car tyre in my life," said Gabe Gajdatsy, sales and marketing director (Asia-Pacific) for Michelin Aircraft Tire Asia Ltd.

"The three basic ways of identifying an aircraft tyre are by diameter, width and rim size."

While car and aircraft tyres have "the same basic structure and methodology, such as nylon components and plys", Gajdatsy memorably compared the latter to "an earthmover tyre travelling at F1 [Formula 1] speed".

Michelin, the first firm to introduce aircraft radials back in 1981, leads the four key market segments of the aviation industry: commercial airplanes on international routes; on regional routes; general aviation (private/corporate planes); and military aircraft. The lion's share of the market for the last two categories comes from North America.

"Michelin is in on every new aircraft programme in the market. We're either the market leader or sole supplier. But Thailand isn't a big market."

But the fact that Gajdatsy, a German-born American, has been posted here for the past seven years overseeing markets from Japan to New Zealand, India and China, speaks volumes about the Thailand's significance.

Michelin has designated the Kingdom as the manufacturing centre for its Asia-Pacific operations, which means that its plant in Nong Khae, Saraburi supplies the needs of the entire region with the exception of tyres for military aircraft, which have to be imported.

Unlike the auto industry, which is close to saturation in most parts of Europe and North America (although there is still untapped potential in the Asia-Pacific), the aviation sector is experiencing unprecedented growth worldwide. For each of the past three years, both Boeing and Airbus have received orders for in excess of 1,000 new planes.

"The backlog in airplane manufacturing has been pushed out until 2016 or 2017," Gajdatsy revealed.

Geo-political events such as 9/11 didn't have a long-term effect on orders for new airplanes; the health scares caused by Sars and avian flu apparently did a lot more damage to the travel market.

Shifting gears back to Thailand, the Nong Khae plant is one of only three Michelin aircraft-tyre plants in the world, the others being located in the US and Europe.

"Thailand provides customer support, logistics and accounting divisions for the Asia-Pacific, with only Japan and Australia being autonomous, but all logistic supply, marketing and long-term vision planning comes from Thailand," Gajdatsy explained.

Given the high cost, most commercial airliners don't buy radials outright. Instead, they opt for various leasing programmes - one of which is called "lease tread", whereby the carrier is charged on the basis of how many landings a tyre has been used for - while Michelin retains ownership of the product.

Aircraft tyres are built specifically for durability but their high natural-rubber content - roughly 30 to 35% - means that they adhere well to surfaces. By contrast, features in automobile radials like the side walls, tread grooves, ribs and shoulder are designed for maximum grip and surface contact in a variety of conditions.

"Airplane-tyre development costs millions. And for it to do what it does day in and day out for 300 landings, an airplane tyre has to have as much technology as any component [in its ground-based counterpart]," said Gajdatsy.

Since the certification process for a particular model of airplane covers all its parts, there is little need for tyre product launches, marketing campaigns or test runs by the media.

"The emphasis is on ground-water dissipation for airports like Suvarnabhumi and Hong Kong but the challenge is to disperse [evenly distribute] wear [across the whole tyre]. It's not made for grip but for durability and [coping with] sudden bursts of energy."

On the subject of maintenance, Gajdatsy had this to say: "We recommend tyre-pressure checks every morning. Anywhere between one and two per cent above or below affects the life of a tyre and will accelerate wear on its shoulders or centre."

In cars, rolling resistance - the energy consumed by a tyre per unit of distance travelled, which is expressed in kilogrammes per tonne - is a factor determining savings in fuel. But the focus is different with airplanes since they require so much more energy to brake.

On a concluding note we asked Gajdatsy what challenges he foresaw Michelin having to face in the immediate future. Juggling mitigation of the firm's environmental and social responsibilities with increased demand for its radials was the gist of his answer:

"We develop technology for longer-lasting tyres, to keep our product on the airplane longer and, by lessening demand on the manufacturing side, to reduce consumption. Yet we also have to build more capacity as the market grows. It's a double-edged sword."


10 questions for Gajdatsy

- What is your favourite car?

I have a fondness for the Mercedes-Benz 450 SL (W107) from the '70s. It has an engine which you can look at and understand. It's small but has a big-car feel to it.

- Favourite airplane?

The Boeing 314 Yankee Clipper float plane [seaplane] which Pan America used to open up the South Pacific aviation market. It introduced air travel to the masses although it carried only 30 people.

- Favourite politician?

Abraham Lincoln [1809-65; 16th president of the US]. As I grow older I'm trying to better understand the dynamics of the United States; what makes it work; why it didn't fall apart - as it could have done - as it was creating itself.

President Lincoln never made things complicated. He came from a simple background. He never aspired to the high office, where he finally ended up, but when he was given the responsibility he never shirked it - and ultimately he paid the price.

- Favourite pastime?

Anything that's outside ... hiking, skiing, sailing, etc.

- Favourite author?

Isaac Asimov [Russian-born, US science-fiction author; 1920-92].

- Favourite restaurant in Thailand?

The Dome [63rd floor of the State Tower, off Silom Road].

- Favourite athlete?

James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens [1913-80; African-American track and field athlete who won four gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin].

- Favourite movie ?

A Midsummer Night's Dream [released in 1999; based on the Shakespeare play, it starred Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer and Stanley Tucci].

- Greatest achievement?

My kids.

- If you were in charge of automotive policy in Thailand for a day, what would you do?

I'd give incentives to all carmakers and motorists to make and buy eco-friendly cars to reduce dependency on crude oil. (You should have heard what he had in mind for aviation policy!)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Six groups to blame for King Power contract

AoT investigation uncovers irregularities

Airports of Thailand's (AoT) investigation committee has found six groups of people were involved in irregularities in the awarding of a contract to King Power Suvarnabhumi Co to run commercial space at Suvarnabhumi airport. The investigation team has confirmed that King Power Suvarnabhumi, a firm under King Power International Group, acquired the commercial space contract from AoT without undergoing scrutiny required under the Public-Private Joint Venture Act.

The law requires in-depth scrutiny of every state project worth one billion baht or more.

AoT board spokesman Chirmsak Pinthong said AoT will inform the company in writing that the contract is invalid.

AoT will then proceed to petition the Office of the Attorney-General to evict the company from the commercial space it occupies at Suvarnabhumi.

King Power Suvarnabhumi operates commercial areas at the new airport, while King Power Duty Free Co runs the duty-free shops.

The investigation team, headed by former national police chief Pol Gen Pratin Santiprabhob, has named in its report six groups of people allegedly involved in the contract irregularities.

The first group was the previous AoT board, chaired by then transport permanent secretary Srisook Chandrangsu, which awarded the contract to the company, allegedly breaching the joint venture law, said the report.

The second was the board's sub-committee to run and develop general affairs in the airport.

The investigation team accused the sub-committee of acting beyond its authority by allowing the company to build the City Garden building outside the airport's passenger terminal, which is not stated in the terms of reference.

The third was the AoT's revenue-handling committee, which is accused of negligence after allowing the company to make use of more space than indicated in the contract. It did not try to charge the company for using the extra area.

The fourth group included the committee which received the bids for the contract and the committee which selected the bidders.

The investigation panel said the company's bidding document had been tampered in a way that put AoT at a disadvantage. Also, nobody in the two committees could say where the missing important documents were being kept, the investigation team said.

The fifth group was King Power Suvarnabhumi and its management.

The AoT investigation committee alleged King Power Suvarnabhumi had concealed information to keep the official investment of the commercial space development below one billion baht, to avoid scrutiny under the Public-Private Joint Venture Act.

The sixth group was the consortium of consultant companies appointed by the old AoT board. The investigation team alleged these advisers tried to estimate the investment value of the project, which was not allowed under the contract. They also tried to put the investment cost below one billion baht, the investigation team said in its report.

The investigators also noted that then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, as chairman of a committee overseeing the development of Suvarnabhumi, and the transport minister and transport permanent secretary at that time might have been aware of contract irregularities

News from : Bangkok Post

Thursday, January 10, 2008

AoT to evict King Power from airport after contract breaches

Airports of Thailand (AoT) will take legal action to evict King Power from the commercial space it occupies at Suvarnabhumi airport.

AoT board spokesman Chirmsak Pinthong said the board's investigation committee headed by former national police chief Pol Gen Pratin Santiprabhob had confirmed that King Power Suvarnabhumi Co, a firm under King Power International Group, had acquired the commercial space contract from AoT without undergoing scrutiny required under the Public-Private Joint Venture Act. The law requires in-depth scrutiny of every state project worth a billion baht or more. King Power Suvarnabhumi operates other commercial areas at the new airport, while King Power Duty Free Co runs the duty-free shops.

The AoT committee alleged King Power Suvarnabhumi had concealed information to keep the official investment of the commercial space development below one billion baht, to avoid scrutiny under the Public-Private Joint Venture Act law.

The AoT board reached the resolution in its meeting in Chiang Rai on Tuesday.

Mr Chirmsak said the AoT would talk to the Office of the Attorney-General about the possibility of evicting King Power from Suvarnabhumi airport.

King Power Duty Free would also be evicted. The AoT board has accused it of acquiring its duty-free shops contract by evading the joint venture law in a similar fashion.

Any legal action must be filed by March or AoT could lose the right to expel King Power Duty Free Co under a one-year statute of limitations.

AoT will also demand compensation from the two King Power companies and urge the National Counter Corruption Commission to prosecute.

The AoT board also plans to terminate the contract of Thai Airports Ground Services Co (Tags) which operates the customs-free cargo zone at Suvarnabhumi airport.

The board claims Tags sets its service fees too high, and violated its contract by sub-leasing part of the zone to a restaurant operator.

Heavy fog temporarily disrupts Suvarnabhumi traffic

SAMUT PRAKAN, Jan 9 (TNA) – Heavy fog disrupted air traffic at Suvarnabhumi International airport Wednesday morning, forcing aircraft to land at other airports.

Serirat Prasutanond, Suvarnabhumi airport director, said heavy fog, suddenly formed when heating weather rapidly passed over cool temperature, blanketed Suvarnabhumi and its environs at 7am Wednesday.

"The fog cut visibility. An international airliner had to land at Chiang Mai International airport instead, while three domestic flights landed at Don Mueang and Utapao airport," Mr. Serirat said.

The fog lifted about an hour later, dissipating and allowing flights to resume normal landing as normal.

The airport director said it is necessary to closely monitor weather changes to ensure security for both aircraft and passengers. (TNA)-E110

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