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Wed, February 28, 2007 : Last updated 13:53 pm (Thai local time)



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Home > Politics > Competent pilot wanted





BURNING ISSUE
Competent pilot wanted

The new airport needs someone to promptly fix its many problems

A wise man once said, 'Be careful of what you ask for, because you might get it.' Well, that is exactly what has happened with Suvarnabhumi Airport. We wanted a showcase project to illustrate to the world what Thailand can offer as an aviation hub, what Thai greatness is all about, and we have produced no better example.

From our design and re-design concepts, to our structural and human integrity - not to mention our Thai-style leadership - all is now out there, for everyone to see.

And while we blunder around searching for the next problem to add to the "Thaksin did it" list, we are missing an opportunity to implement immediate damage control to prevent this huge debacle from spiralling into even more unimaginable disarray.

The issue is not that there was corruption at the new airport under Thaksin: that's something we all know. But the fact is, when it comes to Suvarnabhumi he just added his own ingredients to the under-the-table soup that had been cooking for five years before he came to power.

Finger-pointing can be useful, but we need leadership that points the right fingers at all the culprits - be they politicians, bureaucrats, engineering or architectural firms - responsible for the damage, but yet to be named.

The current government demonstrates neither the willingness nor the ability to do so, nor any level of competency to push the management of the new airport back in the right direction.

Suvarnabhumi's problems remain in no man's land.

The much awaited Tortrakul Yomnak engineering inspection panel officially expired on Monday without producing any real consensus of what the root causes of the airfield damage might be, much less the solutions.

Knowing in advance the panel he appointed could not provide a definite answer, General Saprang Kalayanamitr, president of the Airport of Thailand (AOT)'s board, told the media before Tortrakul announced his findings on Monday that the results we were about to hear "might not satisfy everybody".

He said he would recommend the government hire a team of independent foreign experts to re-inspect the problems.

Competency aside, the independence of Tortrakul's panel was questioned from day one of its appointment.

While the inspection panel should be free from the influence of stakeholders who might have contributed to the damage in the first place, Tortrakul headed the panel as a board member of the AOT, the project's owner.

Some experts on his six-member panel also had histories with the project.

Doubts about Tortrakul also relate to his strong support of the anti-Thaksin movement. Some of his engineering peers claimed that his two-week mission failed to produce a conclusive result because he wasted time going in the wrong direction - looking for substandard sand and other construction materials to feed his own version of the corruption mantra.

His unwillingness to take a more open-minded, straight-forward scientific investigation caused him to nearly overlook the high water level in the sand itself.

His single-mindedness was evident by his preaching of unsubstantiated cover-ups by Thaksin-era chiefs to the international press. When repeatedly asked by some of the same foreign journalists: "Is this not a problem that goes back years before Thaksin?", Tortrakul was stone silent.

While we hear nothing about what's to be done next - whether these foreign experts are to be hired and when they might arrive - engineers on the ground focused merely on solving the problem are looking to anybody to make the decision to urgently drain the water from the sand that evidently damaged the asphalt pavement of the taxi lanes and taxiways.

"Without reducing the water, there is a high possibility of additional taxi lane closure when it reaches the ultimate failure state in the very near future. This may have a severe impact on the airport's operation," a consultant engineer who has taken part in the airport construction told The Nation.

The 70 per cent government-owned AOT, which operates Suvarnabhumi, has contributed next to nothing towards finding the solution.

Suvarnabhumi is being treated as a political hot potato as opposed to a critical piece of our nation's economic infrastructure.

People who are supposed to know best what went wrong are either too busy guarding evidence that might unearth their mischief, or are sitting idly for fear of being seen as associated with the wrong parties.

Meanwhile, Government House and the Transport Ministry are too busy debating who should have the final say about what to do next with the Suvarnabhumi crisis.

The only thing both the Prime Minister and the Transport Minister agree on is the hurriedly conceived plan to reopen Don Muang, instead of a rapid response to the problem at Suvarnabhumi when the first findings appeared to avoid the need to return to Don Muang altogether.

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont also sent his own team of advisers and experts to investigate problems at the new airport.

But so far the public have not heard a word of what they have to say.

We also have a self-appointed committee from the National Legislative Assembly, which so far has been nothing more than a morning megaphone for bad news about the airport and Thaksin's role in generating it.

What Suvarnabhumi has illustrated over the past four months is our society's continued inability to produce competent and truthful leaders amid a culture that is too focused on attempting to appear like we know what we are doing rather than actually doing it.

From the moment the junta confidently claimed that Suvarnabhumi was good to open last September, the management of the airport has been on auto-pilot with no one in the cockpit.

Let's hope the plane does not run out of fuel before someone steps up and takes the controls to avoid an even a greater calamity. 

Nantiya Tangwisutijit

The Nation








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