They built a better boat
Aeroklas finds a more urgent use for its pickup-bed liners
With roads turned into rivers in many areas, boats have become more essential than cars, but the limited supply and high demand has driven the price of a fibreglass craft as high as Bt10,000.
Meanwhile, swamped residents can ride in other people's boats, but the ferry fees have turned exorbitant too.
So Aeroklas - the firm that makes the Aeroliner protective liners for the haulage beds of pickup trucks - started fashioning boats from the same durable material.
And you can get one of these vessels for just Bt2,500.
Through its "volunteer spirit" project called Do Good for King, Aeroklas has distributed 5,000 boats to flood-affected people through government agencies like the Flood Relief Operation Centre and the news media, including The Nation.
"The high price of most boats is partly because of the long supply chain and partly some vendors are exploiting the situation," says deputy managing director Supawadee Vitoorapakorn.
"Our truck-bed liner is made of HDPE - high-density polyethylene - which is tough and durable but floats, so it makes a good boat. Our production line can make about 2,000 boats a day to keep up with demand."
The firm has thus far built more than 20,000 boats and sells them for Bt2,500 to Bt3,500, depending on the size. They've been sold directly to people in inundated areas like Kaset-Nawamin and Ram-Intra Road, and last Saturday 2,000 boats were snapped up at Bitec in Bang Na.
Aeroklas began fashioning watercraft from its bed liners when the Northeast was badly flooded late last year. The first models were free and still shaped like a truck-bed liner, but they were extremely light yet could carry up to eight people or 800 kilograms.
"That first model was designed quickly to evacuate people and carry relief supplies," Supawadee says. "It could be towed by a truck or fitted with a boat engine, so people didn't have to paddle.
"But when the flood crisis began in the Central Region, people asked for a more compact vessel that could hold two to four people. Our engineering team designed one that actually looks like a boat and it can transport 240 kilograms."
Supawadee and her team visited the flooded areas themselves and realised how a modified design was needed. The firm came up with a smaller boat, good for two people, and a single-person craft called the Mini.
"We met a lot of working people who had to pay boat owners about Bt500 just for a short ride from their flooded communities to the main road. They needed a compact, lightweight boat of their own that they could carry around. Our Mini is just 12 kilograms."
Supawadee also witnessed rescue crews standing in their unsteady boats while passing food and other supplies to people stranded on the second floor of their houses. That's what inspired Aeroklas to incorporate a catamaran design in its twin-hull L-shaped boats. They're joined by a wooden frame and held more solid on the water surface.
"In some areas like Bang Yai and Sai Noi in Nonthaburi there are a lot bridges, and you have to get out of the boat and haul it across dry land to the next flooded area. So now our engineering team is working on a boat with foldable wheels."
Aeroklas makes a dry, cool truck body that has ABS on the exterior and polystyrene foam inside, and has just unveiled a mobile toilet that's moulded from the same material but meets all hygiene standards.
You'd normally pay Bt30,000 for a loo like this. The company managed to get the price down to Bt21,000.
The toilet's build for one, the hole's got a lid, and there's a water pipe and a waste tank, complete with a stovepipe vent, that can hold 450 litres. The door locks and has extra ventilation at the base.
Aeroklas is making some money out of all these items, Supawadee says, but a lot of the gear is given away free or sold at cost, so it's not much.
"The good thing, really, is that our own people are so enthusiastic about making products that are truly needed in the flood areas. This has given the team a much-needed boost in spirit and really united everybody."
On the Web
_ Find out more about the boats, trucks and toilets at www.Aeroklas.com.