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Eased traffic woes may be short-lived

BackSep 07, 2006

Suvarnabhumi may be full in two years


Suvarnabhumi Airport is likely to provide only brief relief to air-traffic congestion over Bangkok before it becomes crowded again in less than two years after its Sept 28 opening.

That scenario has become likely based on the recent statistics and trends that point to traffic volume through one of Asia's busiest air hubs reaching 42 million passengers towards the end of this year.

That means there will be little room to grow before Suvarnabhumi reaches its annual capacity of 45 million passengers, probably in less than two years.

''Suvarnabhumi could be full in 18 months,'' said AoT president Chotisak Asapaviriya, adding that Don Muang already deals with 38 million passengers.

Don Muang airport has for several years exceeded its designed capacity of 36.5 million passengers a year, with one flight taking off or landing every minute during peak hours.

The congestion has forced jetliners to wait in the takeoff queue or circle the airport for 15-20 minutes before receiving clearance to land.

At the moment, about 90 international carriers operate 600-700 flights a day, dealing with about 110,000 passengers a day, through Don Muang.

Traffic buildup at Bangkok's new airport, built at a cost of 125 billion baht, is expected to gain pace, as more airlines seek to fly through Suvarnabhumi for the first time.

In addition, airlines that already call at Bangkok will seek to increase frequencies in the knowledge that there will be no bottlenecks as at Don Muang.

Mr Chotisak said seven or eight airlines including Batavia Air, a private Indonesian airline from Indonesia, had asked to launch services through Suvarnabhumi, while the German airline Lufthansa and budget airline AirAsia had sought to step up their frequencies.

Until now, 100 airlines have confirmed their intention to operate through Suvarnabhumi showing confidence in the airport's readiness, he noted.

The AoT envisages a plan to build a passenger terminal for low-cost carriers (LCCs) as an annex to Suvarnabhumi's main terminal as a crucial factor to enable the airport to cope with the influx of traffic through Bangkok in the short term.

Mr Chotisak has single-handedly been pushing for the realisation of the LCC terminal over the next 16 months at an estimated cost of 800 million baht.

The self-contained LCC terminal will have usable space of 20,000 square metres, the size of three standard football pitches, and be capable of handling 15 million passengers a year. It will also have a four-storey car park for 1,000 cars.

AoT expects LCC traffic to double from 7-8 million passengers in its first year to 15 million in the next two years.

The construction of the LCC terminal provides leeway to the plan to immediately proceed with expansion at an estimated cost of 48 billion baht, which was put on hold by caretaker prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

In the first phase of the plan, a satellite building, also known as a midfield concourse, a third runway and a host of supporting facilities would be built, raising the capacity to 54 million in 2011.

According to the master plan, two subsequent expansion plans would follow that to ultimately raise Suvarnabhumi's capacity to 120 million passengers a year in 2026 while doubling its cargo-handling capacity to 6.4 million tonnes a year from three million tonnes.

Industry analysts said the extent of the expected congestion at Suvarnabhumi was unlikely to be as bad as at Don Muang, as far as aircraft movement is concerned, due to the fact that the new airport has two runways.

But although Suvarnabhumi has two runways, their close proximity places certain limits on simultaneous movements.

Source - Bangkok Post, Thursday 7 September 2006