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THAI may make U-Tapao temporary base

Thai Airways International, the national flag carrier, has prepared a contingency plan to use U-tapao airport in Chon Buri province as its temporary base if there is an extended closure of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports.

THAI's acting president ACM Narongsak Sangkhapong yesterday said staff had readied U-tapao's aircraft refuelling, passenger ticketing and other facilities in case there is a significant diversion of flights to the airport, which is about an hour's drive from Bangkok.

Yesterday, THAI diverted one of its long-haul flights, TG 795 from Los Angeles and carrying 126 passengers, to U-tapao as Bangkok's airports remained closed.

"Now, there are two scenarios. First, the Cabinet could declare a state of emergency at both Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports following a court injunction [requiring protesters to leave the airports]. Then, we could return to provide passenger and cargo services if the situation returned to normal.

"However, another scenario is that we will need to divert flights to U-tapao if the two Bangkok airports remain closed for an extended period," he said.

THAI has reported a daily Bt500-million loss of revenue since anti-government protesters shut Suvarnabhumi and then Don Mueang airports on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Narongsak said the airline was also facing additional expenses as a result of the airport siege, as some staff are now stuck at overseas stations, resulting in extra costs for hotel accommodation.

At its Bangkok headquarters, the airline has set up a special customer service centre to serve a large number of clients, most of whom are foreigners, as they have no idea when Bangkok's airports will reopen.

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