Suvarnabhumi is a disaster.
Don Mueang ready to buzz with activity
THE NATION July 9, 2012 1:00 am
AirAsia's move to Don Mueang seen as good news, but doubts remain over AOT plan. Low-cost airline Thai AirAsia's recently announced plan to relocate to Don Mueang Airport from Suvarnabhumi does not come as a surprise. As of October 1, the airline is expected to make the old airport buzz again with its 160 daily flights.
Chief executive officer Tassapon Bijleveld said he spent two months discussing the relocation plan with Airports of Thailand (AOT), because it is a huge move that will cost a great deal. So far, it is apparent now that Suvarnabhumi will be its permanent base.
It appears that everyone involved is happy with this development. AOT is happy because AirAsia's move helps bring it one step closer to turning Don Mueang into a hub for low-cost carriers while reducing congestion at Suvarnabhumi. As well, local passengers have welcomed the decision because Don Mueang is convenient to access from central Bangkok.
However, this momentary happiness hides some possible problems. Some local passengers have raised concerns over logistical connections between Bangkok's two airports. How will AOT provide effective and punctual transport facilities between the two? Of course, many of the travellers who will use Don Mueang are point-to-point, but there are many as well who use the low-cost carriers to connect with other flights. They will need timely service to Suvarnabhumi to make their journey smooth.
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AOT has been asked to prepare this service before it is too late. Currently, it has time to do so because the number of passengers remains small. In 2011, there were a total of 40,903 flights at Don Mueang, mostly Nok Air and Orient Thai, and 3.4 million passengers.
But the airport can accommodate 36.5 million passengers, and AOT will be in talks with 14 low-cost airlines, mainly foreign, to persuade them to use Don Mueang as their operational base. If successful, that will mean a rapid increase in passenger numbers.
Unequal treatment of airlines flying from Don Mueang will also be problematic. Flying Officer Anirut Thanomkulbutra, AOT's president, said it was clear that the incentives to be launched would be given only to those airlines shifting their operations from Suvarnabhumi. That doesn't sit well with Nok Air, which was already based in Don Mueang. Its CEO Patee Sarasin wants equal treatment on incentives; doing otherwise would lead to unfair competition. He is in talks with AOT to ask for such discounts on fees.
Under the current plan, AOT has offered incentives to persuade low-cost airlines to relocate from Suvarnabhumi to reduce congestion. The incentives begin this year and run in three steps to 2015, comprising discounts of 10-30 per cent on landing and parking fees, office and land rental, and check-in counters.
But in fact, AOT should thank Nok Air for helping rebuild confidence in Don Mueang after last year's flood crisis. The airport was temporarily closed and resumed operations in March this year. Nok Air restarted its 80 daily flights on March 6. Without Nok Air, Don Mueang would be left empty.
After October 1, a closer look will be needed to see if the airport can regain its previous international reputation as one of Asia's important hubs.
Don Mueang ready to buzz with activity - The Nation