Government OKs Reopening of Old Bangkok Airport

Bangkok's old Don Muang airport can be reopened for international and domestic flights, the Thai government said Tuesday, amid growing problems at the scandal-ridden new Suvarnabhumi Airport.

"We need to time to make repairs and improvements at Suvarnabhumi Airport, because of the many flaws," Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont told reporters after a Cabinet meeting.

The move would divide international flights between the two airports, he said.

The sleek and modern Suvarnabhumi Airport, which opened to great fanfare in September, was built to transform the Thai capital into Southeast Asia's leading air hub.

Instead, the facility has become a national embarrassment with widely publicized problems that include cracks on the taxiways, a shortage of toilets, dozens of design flaws and a long list of corruption allegations.

Details of the pending move still need to be sorted out by a government-appointed committee, which will submit a plan to the Cabinet in two weeks for final approval, after which Don Muang could be reopened in 45 days, said Transport Minister Thira Hao-Charoen.

The Transport Ministry said last week it would seek Cabinet approval to reopen Don Muang for some domestic flights, to ease congestion at Suvarnabhumi so repairs could be made.

It was not immediately clear why the government Tuesday decided that some international flights should also move to Don Muang, a move that critics have said would be confusing to tourists.

Don Muang, located north of Bangkok, was shuttered in September to make way for Suvarnabhumi, which is east of the capital.

The new airport was intended to have an initial capacity for 45 million passengers a year, but design flaws have created overcrowding. Problems with the baggage-handling system and computerized check-in services have led to long lines and lost luggage.

Airports of Thailand, the airport authority, found 61 glitches and problems that need to be repaired at an estimated cost of 1.5 billion baht (US$45 million; euro34 million). Most repairs can be made within six months, it estimates. Expansion plans to increase the airport's capacity have been put on hold.

Officials say more than 100 fissures have been detected in taxiways leading to Suvarnabhumi's two runways that began appearing two weeks after the airport's opening.

Officials say the cracks pose no safety threat and that many airports experience the same problem - although generally not as soon after construction as they appeared at Suvarnabhumi.

Suvarnabhumi was built on a wetlands, known as "Cobra Swamp." The cracks are believed to stem from underground water seeping through the asphalt and cement.

Critics have called the airport a monument to the alleged corruption of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose administration handed out most of the airport's building contracts.

Thaksin was deposed by a coup in September and replaced by a military-installed government that has opened several corruption investigations into the airport.

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