Saturday, November 26, 2011

Airport rehab up in the air

A full-scale rehabilitation of inundated Don Mueang airport, which could run into billions of baht, hinges on state policy and assurances that it will never again experience a similar deluge to what it has faced for more than a month now.
This was the scene at the front (above) and on the tarmac (below) of what was Asia's longest operating capital-city airport on Friday afternoon, Nov 25. Earlier photos of the stricken airport below.

The Yingluck Shinawatra administration will have to decide whether it is worthwhile to spend billions of baht to restore buildings at Bangkok's old airport such as the domestic and cargo terminals as well as repair the western runway. Senior executives of Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) say for this big an investment, a decision will have to be made about whether Don Mueang needs a full-blown, permanent flood prevention system such as the one installed at Suvarnabhumi, Thailand's gateway airport.
AoT president Anirut Thanomkulbutra yesterday said undertaking the second phase of Don Mueang's rehabilitation is a policy issue that the government must clearly address.
That phase of restoration will be necessary if AoT is to proceed with five schemes aimed at adding commercial activities to enhance the utilisation of the airport beyond its mainstay operation - serving two Thai budget airlines for domestic point-to-point flights.
On AoT's drawing board before the flooding hit were plans for an airframe heavy maintenance and landing gear repair centre; aircraft parts and component storage; imported car showrooms; a logistics centre; a convention and exhibition centre; and a private jet terminal.
Only one of these projects has been realised - a private terminal for MJets Ltd, which began operations in March 2010 under a five-year concession from AoT.
However, that facility has been devastated by the flooding.
Another AoT executive pointed out the phase-two rehabilitation depends on a 15-member panel on national reconstruction and future development chaired by former finance minister Virabongsa Ramangkura.
But what is definite now is an urgent rehabilitation plan costing nearly one billion baht to reactivate the airport, hopefully within 120 days after it dries out.
The work involved will be twofold. Mr Anirut said the first step will be to restore the runway, taxiways, airfield lighting system, high-power distribution system and air navigation aids on the eastern side in order to serve aircraft belonging to government agencies, the military and VIPs.
The second step will be to restore the former international passenger terminal or Terminal 1 and repair AoT's headquarters on the opposite side of the airport.
The cabinet has already approved 489 million baht for AoT to carry out the first step, while AoT will finance the second step itself for 445 million baht.
Mr Anirut said Don Mueang's eastern runway, to be repaired in the first step, could probably be open for service by the end of January.
AoT, 70% state-owned, will come up with a time frame for the rehabilitation once the extent of the damage has been determined.
However, work can only start once the water recedes, which remains a big question mark.
The water at the airport has been subsiding but was still 50 centimetres deep yesterday. The authorities and AoT management will not drain the water from around the airport, as that would add to the woes of the surrounding communities that have themselves been devastated by the deluge.
They would rather see the water recede naturally instead of manipulating the water flow, said a senior AoT official.

Stranded airliners on the tarmac of the Don Mueang airport as of Nov 14. (Reuters Photo)

This photo of the sunrise over the stricken airport was taken on Sunday, Nov 20. (AFP Photo)