Some airlines afraid to use new airport
Theera says runway can be fixed without closing facility, while repairs force planes to circle overhead or land at U-Tapao
Transport Minister Thera Haocharoen, left, General Saprang Kalayanamitr, Council for National Security member and chairman of the Airports of Thailand board, centre, Suvarnabhumi airport general manager Somchai Sawasdiphol, right, and Admiral Bannavit Ken
Incoming flights were delayed at Suvarnabhumi Airport yesterday as its west runway was closed for repairs for two hours, while the transport minister admitted some airlines were afraid to use the new airport due to safety concerns.
While inspecting cracks on taxiways Transport Minister Theera Haocharoen said: "This has started to affect the country's image and some airlines are afraid to use Suvarnabhumi due to safety fears."
Some flights had to circle the airport yesterday afternoon or land at U-Tapao military airfield in Chon Buri for refuelling and temporary parking.
A source from Thai Airways International said two of the airline's international flights were delayed by more than one hour.
"Flight TG 414 from Singapore should have landed at 5.05pm but it landed at 6.35pm. Meanwhile, the Tokyo-Manila-Bangkok Flight TG 621 landed at 6.45pm, two hours after its original landing schedule at 4.45pm," he said.
A passenger on a domestic Thai Airways flight from Hat Yai, which landed at U-Tapao, said he was on the plane for an hour before the flight could return to Suvarnabhumi.
"Before getting to Suvarnabhumi, I was informed that my plane could not land due to the traffic jam and the captain made a detour to U-Tapao. My plane was the first to get there and during the hour I saw four or five more planes land, one of them belonging to Thai AirAsia," he said.
Flight TG 240, another flight from Hat Yai, delayed its takeoff for 40 minutes and passengers were told they had to wait till Suvarnabhumi Airport was less congested. Its takeoff was delayed from 4.50pm until 5.30pm.
Somchai Sawasdeepon, Airports of Thailand (AoT) senior executive vice president and Suvarnabhumi director, said the west runway was closed for repairs from 2pm to 4pm. This coincided with Theera's inspection of cracks on the taxiways.
"The repairs had been scheduled. We informed all flights to stop over at U-Tapao where they could refill their tanks," Somchai said.
During his two-hour inspection accompanied by AoT chairman General Saprang Kalayanamitr, Theera admitted that 11 aero-bridges were sealed off due to subsidence on the taxiways.
In the first official admission of damage at the airport, Theera identified more than 100 points at 25 areas on taxiways and one point on the west runway where damage had occurred. Seven points on the taxiways had been repaired but subsidence had reoccurred after two weeks.
"Cracks have also been found at many other areas. This will affect travellers on planes that can not reach 11 aero-bridges, while the repairs have caused traffic jams," Theera said.
While admitting the airport needs swift repairs, Theera insisted that Suvarnabhumi would not be shut and Don Muang reopened.
Cracks in the main runway could be repaired without shutting it down because they had occurred at the head of the runway, allowing jets enough space to land if work was underway, he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Kosit Panpiemras also said yesterday he opposed shifting flights to Don Muang, saying this would inconvenience travellers.
Theera said engineers and technicians had been asked to find "temporary" ways to fix the cracks within the next few weeks. In the next two weeks, an investigation committee chaired by Tortrakul Yomnag will start examining the ground underneath the airport, which is located in an area known as Cobra Swamp.
The airport has been plagued by operational glitches and structural defects that have been blamed on the rushed manner in which it was built and opened, as well as the opaque way in which building contracts were awarded.
Besides cracks, there have been reports of leaks in the roof, faulty air-conditioning, poor drainage in the parking lots and complaints of a severe shortage of rest rooms.
Deputy Transport Minister Sansern Wongcha-um yesterday warned that 12 light-control boxes are inappropriately located: although they were built to handle temperatures of up to 40 degrees they were placed outside where the temperature can rise to 45 degrees. They could be damaged by the heat or catch fire, he said.
"These problems indicate massive corruption," Saprang said. "Someone needs to take responsibility."
Despite reports AoT president Chotisak Asapaviriya's job was on the line due to the airport's problems, his dismissal was not on the agenda of the agency's meeting yesterday.