Don Muang unlikely to reopen after airline snub
Don Muang Airport may not be reopened as fewer-than-expected airlines have shown any intention of moving their operations back to the old airport, said an executive of Airports of Thailand (AOT).
Pinit Saraithong, Don Muang director, said that only three airlines - Nok Air, Thai AirAsia and One-Two-Go - were interested in moving to Don Muang. The number of flights these airlines operate only accounts for a tiny proportion at the new Suvarnabhumi Airport.
"How could we survive with such a small number of clients?" he said after the meeting with over 60 airlines yesterday.
Due to the opening of Suvarnabhumi in September, AOT has suffered from higher operating costs. Its net profit for the October-December period dropped sharply to Bt1.36 billion from Bt3.30 billion a year earlier.
AOT had earlier expected at least 30 per cent of flights from Suvarnabhumi would be moved to Don Muang. But the three airlines operate about 300 flights per week - or less than 10 per cent of traffic at Suvarnabhumi.
Transport Minister Theera Haocharoen said after the meeting that the issue would be finalised by a panel chaired by Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, which will hold a meeting today.
At the meeting, over 60 airlines including Thai Airways Interna-tional (THAI) insisted that they would not move.
Sopin Daengteth, chairman of the Airline Operators Committee, said: "International airlines won't return to Don Muang, even though the old airport would be reopened for international flights."
Taxiways and runways at Suvarnabhumi could be fixed while airlines operate as usual.
Brian Sinclair-Thomson, president of the Board of Airline Representatives in Thailand, revealed that international airlines disagreed with the idea of having two international airports in Bangkok. He said all supported the single-airport concept, which should ensure Thailand's status as an aviation hub.
Star Alliance, the gathering of nine leading airlines including THAI and Lufthansa, are among those who will stay at the new airport.
"We fully endorse the policy of our home carrier and founding member THAI to retain its hub of operations at Suvarnabhumi Airport," said Jaan Albrecht, Star Alliance chief executive officer, summarising the position of the Star Alliance Thailand Country Steering Council.
"By moving together under one roof at the new Suvarnabhumi, Star Alliance carriers have signalled their joint intention to offer fast and comfortable connections and services in safe, modern and passenger-pleasing facilities."
THAI President Apinan Sumanaseni said the group's decision would strengthen the regional hub position with the support of the alliance. Under the 'Move under one Roof' concept that is rolled out around the world, members can provide airport services such as check-in and lounges from the same terminal.
Star Alliance members include ANA, Austrian, Asiana Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, SWISS and United. Together in Bangkok, they operate 1,000 flights per week which represent 47.2 percent of all international seats.
Committed to moving to Don Muang are only One-Two-Go and Nok Air. However, when it starts its Bangkok-India route in the second quarter, Nok Air will operate the international flight from Suvarnabhumi, according to its CEO Patee Sarasin.
While the AOT proposed the reopening for domestic flights only, the Cabinet later approved the old airport for both domestic and international flights. They reasoned it would reduce traffic at Suvarnabhumi, paving the way for repairs of the west runway and taxiways.
Even Thai AirAsia is reluctant to go to Don Muang if it is reopened for domestic flights only. The airline operates 80 flights per day and most of the passengers are from overseas. The airline plans to expand its international network to the Philippines, Vietnam, Southern China and India.
CEO Tasapon Beijleveldsaid: "We are standing by our proposal from the beginning. We want to operate both domestic and international routes at one airport, which could be at Suvarnabhumi or Don Muang."
Chalongbhop Sussangkarn, president of the Thailand Research Department Institute, said he raised three questions at the meeting yesterday to ask the participants if airlines should move to Don Muang.
"First, whether the runway repairs at Suvarnabhumi would affect the existing flights. If there is no effect, there is no need for relocation. Second, if the existing flights are affected, how many flights should be reduced. Third, whether only domestic flights or both domestic and foreign flights should be relocated," he said.
"In answering these questions, we need to take into account effects on airlines, passengers and public confidence. Then, there should be a long-term direction on how the government is to make use of two airports."
There was no data available to answer these questions at the meeting, he concluded.