Just listen to our noisy nightmare
As airport opens today, resident challenges director to pay a visit
as a jet flies low over her house yesterday, Wanida Sanwanitchpattana complains about noise pollution from the new airport.
Fifty-year-old Wanida Sanwanitchpattana wants to invite Suvarnabhumi Airport director Somchai Swasdipol to spend a night at her place. Free room and board, nice breakfast included.
Sound generous? Maybe, but Wanida has an ulterior motive.
"I want him to know what one jet plane after another diving down from the sky sounds like," said Wanida, whose two-storey home sits right next to the fence surrounding Suvarnabhumi Airport. "He said on TV that he has done his best to resolve all of the problems affecting the surrounding communities. I haven't seen the shadow of a single airport official since construction started."
To some people, the official opening of Suvarnabhumi Airport may bring with it a sense of relief or delight. To others, it might even be a dream come true. But to Wanida and thousands of other families living under the airport's flight path, the dawn opening will seem more like a nightmare.
Wanida had her first taste of deafening jet noise on September 15, when Thai Airways ran 12 domestic flights to and from Suvarnabhumi. People inside her house had to stop whatever conversations they were having. Phone calls were cut short, and TVs went mute.
Since that day, Wanida has not had a moment of peace because of the 20 or so flights that pass above her roof each day. From today onward, however, the Airports of Thailand expects to operate as many as 76 flights per hour.
"I learnt that my house is in the flight path [two weeks ago], after the soft opening [of the airport]. Nobody informed me before," she said.
Moo Baan Romreudee, where Wanida lives, is one of two housing estates that almost every aircraft has to fly over before landing. While many people have eagerly awaited the landing of Lufthansa freighter LH 8442, the very first flight to land at the new airport, marking the beginning of full-scale operations today, Wanida has dreaded the moment. After LH 8442, 649 more flights will land and take off from Suvarnabhumi Airport today.
"I really don't want the day to come," said Wanida. "Even these days, when the airport is not yet fully operational, I cannot sleep well because aircraft pass right over the roof of my house."
Adding insult to in jury, the heavy rains of the past few days have brought floodwaters right up to the doorsteps of many of the homes in the estate, including Wanida's. Until last year, flooding had never been a problem.
Wanida said that if possible, she wanted the Airports of Thailand (AOT) to expropriate her two-story house and 50 square wah of land, saying she could not bear to stay there much longer.
"If the AOT improved my house so that it could resist the noise, I doubt I would be able to afford the air conditioning bills because we would have to leave it on the whole day [because the windows would have to stay shut]," she said.
When The Nation visited this housing estate on Rom Klao Road on Tuesday, residents still had no idea who would be able to solve all the problems that had come with the new airport. Some point out last year, representatives of a consultant company visited to survey the communities surrounding the airport. That was the first and the last chance residents had to actually talk in person with someone representing the airport.
However, as Wanida pointed out, no one was able to report any problems because they had not experienced any at that stage. All the people could do was voice their concerns about the possibility of noise pollution.
The residents of the housing estate stood with their feet almost inundated by the floodwater that was gradually seeping from a waste-water drainage pipeline. Klong Sam Prawet, which runs near their community, has flooded all the roads it runs through.
Suradej Benjathikul, Wanida's neighbour, said this year was the second year that Romreudee housing estate had been flooded with water from Klong Sam Prawet. Suradej said the water flowed more quickly through the klong before the new airport was built.
Though construction on the airport began in 2002, it was not until late 2004 that the 20,000-rai Nong Ngu Hao swamp was fully reclaimed. Paijen Maksuwan, director of the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) which tried to build an irrigation system to prevent flooding around the airport, said that about 20,000 rai of flood-retention area had disappeared beneath Suvarnabhumi. The 78-metre-wide and 12-km-long irrigation canal will not be complete until mid-2008.
"During the construction period, the [flooding] situation could not be helped," he said.
The inauguration today of the new airport might strike some as a moment of national pride, but for the airport's neighbours, like Suradej and Wanida, today marks the day when their quality of life takes a nose-dive.
"Come back and let me know who can help us," Wanida said.