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Mon, February 12, 2007 : Last updated 8:40 am (Thai local time)

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Home > National > Engineers unable to agree on root cause of airport cracks

Engineers unable to agree on root cause of airport cracks

The public is supposed to know on Monday the conclusion of the root cause of the problem with Suvarnabhumi's runways and other parts of the airport.

But judging by yesterday's discussion among the country's leading engineers and architects, there seemed to be little confidence that the professionals were closer to understanding the problem, much less the implementation of the solution.

Although many engineers agreed that drainage and subsurface water might be responsible for the ruts and cracks in the airport, they could not agree on the sources of the problematic water in the sand layer that had weakened the strength of the asphalt on the surface of the taxiways.

Some engineers, including Ampai Poosripong of the Engineering Association of Thailand, suggested the water could be evidence of either poor engineering in draining the water out from the soft swamp soil about a decade ago, or a problem with the current surface-water management by the airport operator.

However, Malaysian geotechnical engineer Dr Tian Ho Seah, from the consulting firm MAA Geotechnics, which took part in underground water drainage a decade ago, made a presentation that focused on poor surface-water management.

He argued that poor engineering techniques could not be the cause of the problem as evidenced by the standard rate of settlement of soil in the airfield.

He instead pinpointed the problem of water overflows from nearby canals onto the airfield, which remained in the sand layer about one metre under the taxiways.

Nonetheless, Seah admitted that nobody yet understood the entire picture. He used the analogy of an elephant and a group of blind men, in which each of them assumed the shape of the elephant from the parts they touched, with none having a concept of the whole animal.

"Do we have enough facts? Or is everybody just talking about different things?" Seah asked.

There were a lot of concerns at the passenger terminal too, said architect Yodyiem Theptaranon, who was recently appointed to sit on the board of directors of Airports of Thailand Plc. He cited the example of the 27 revolving doors, 17 of which have broken glass. It was also found that the glass was not tempered or laminated to protect passengers from getting injured.

"Suvarnabhumi is the apex of shame of our profession," he said. "There are many problems that we still don't know of. We have to start looking at the other side of the coin. What's most important in arriving at a solution is finding out what we don't know."

The issue of the independence of professionals involved in identifying the problem and the solution was raised again yesterday.

Professor Dr Panithan Lakanaprasit from Chulalongkorn University's Engineering Faculty said he was concerned about the potential conflict of interest as most people in the engineering and architecture professions had had something to do with the nearly five-decade-long airport project.

He urged professional organisations, including the Engineering Association of Thailand, the Siamese Architects' Association, the Engineering Consultation Association and the Construction Association, which jointly held the meeting yesterday, to make sure they put the right people in charge to revive the faith of the public about people in these professions.

Regardless of all the uncertainties, Tortrakul Yomnark, chairman of the committee appointed to determine the cause of the airport problem, will hold a press conference on Monday to announce his findings.

He said he was convinced that water could be responsible for ruts and cracks but a lot more tests would have to be done to reach a final conclusion.

Nantiya Tangwisutijit

The Nation

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