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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Suvarnabhumi plan approved

The long-awaited expansion of Suvarnabhumi Airport has been set in motion now that Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) has agreed to proceed with the 78-billion-baht programme.

The majority state-owned and SET-listed airport operator's board last Friday endorsed the Phase 2 development and will soon seek final consent from the Transport Ministry and the cabinet.

The expansion, which was supposed to have begun shortly after the airport opened in September 2006, would increase the passenger handling capacity of Thailand's gateway airport by 33%, to 60 million in the next six years from 45 million currently.

Kulya Pakakrong, AoT's senior executive vice-president, said yesterday that the expansion would deal with the crowding problem at the airport which is now operating close to its capacity.

The expansion involves building a midfield terminal and a third runway.

AoT's decision comes at the time when the airline industry is facing a severe downturn with a marked slowdown in traffic and ballooning operating costs, all triggered by skyrocketing fuel prices.

But it responds to the airline industry's longstanding call for AoT to deal with the congestion that had inconvenienced airlines and passengers alike.

The industry has warned that Suvarnabhumi was losing out to rival airports in Southeast Asia, namely Singapore Changi Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), as the region's preferred air hubs due to its restricted capacity and high service fees.

Mrs Kulya insisted that the possible excess capacity at the airport resulting from the expansion was not an issue as AoT was still seeing traffic growth through Suvarnabhumi.

''Suvarnabhumi's traffic is on course with projections for 6.5% annual growth in the near term, 5.5% in the medium term and 4% long-term,'' she said.

But according to AoT figures, passenger traffic through Suvarnabhumi grew just 1.94% year-on-year in the first half of this year to 21.21 million.

AoT aims to call a tender for the airport expansion work next year and hopes to be able to start construction by the end of 2009.

About 33 billion baht of the estimated project cost would come from loans from the Japan Bank for International Co-operation (JBIC), which was a major lender for the phase-one project that cost 155 billion baht.

Mrs Kulya said AoT had already contracted a consulting company to conduct an environmental impact study for the expansion project. It will hold public hearings to explain plans to mitigate noise pollution resulting from the increased air traffic.

AOT shares closed yesterday on the Stock Exchange of Thailand at 38.50 baht, unchanged, in trade worth 5.5 million baht.

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