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Friday, November 28, 2008

Thailand offers navy airbase as substitute airport

BANGKOK, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Thailand is offering its naval airbase on the eastern seaboard as an alternative for airlines after its two Bangkok airports were closed by anti-government protests, a top aviation official said on Thursday.


Aviation Department chief Chaisak Angkasuwan said he was ready to let airlines use U-Tapao, a small airport already used for some short domestic routes and international charter flights, 140 km (90 mile) southeast of Bangkok.


"If any airline wishes to land or take off from U-Tapao, send us a request and we will immediately grant it," he said.


"We are doing this to help passengers who wish to go home," he added.


A blockade by anti-government protesters at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, a major Asian air hub, entered its third day on Thursday, causing the cancellation of all flights and stranding thousands of tourists in the Thai capital.


Members of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) also laid siege to the old Don Muang airport, shutting the domestic hub and effectively severing air links to the city of 8 million people.


U-Tapao, a front-line base for the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War, has one runway.


National carrier Thai Airways THAI.BK, which operates 140 flights a day to and from Suvarnabhumi international airport, said on Thursday it was considering using U-Tapao. (Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Editing by Alan Raybould) (Bangkok newsroom, darren.schuettler@thomsonreuters.com; +66 2 637 5610))

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