New Bangkok Airport Plagued by Cracked Taxiways

Bangkok's new international airport has about 100 cracks in the taxiways that lead up to runways and will need to close the damaged areas for repair, a top airport official said Monday.

Somchai Sawasdeepon, the general manager of Suvarnabhumi Airport and a senior executive in state-run Airports of Thailand, denied news reports splashed across front pages Monday saying that the cracks had also emerged in runways.

"The cracks do not appear in runways and pose no safety threat to aircraft," Somchai said when contacted by telephone.

Nonetheless, it was the latest batch of bad publicity for the flashy new airport, which opened Sept. 28 and has been plagued by glitches and corruption allegations.

Somchai said the cracks began appearing about two weeks after the airport opened and are believed to stem from underground water seeping through the cement and asphalt, Somchai said. The airport was built on a former swamp.

The cracks were made public by a panel set up by the National Legislative Assembly to inspect the airport's construction.

Praphan Koonmee, head of the panel, said that his investigating committee toured the airport Sunday and detected cracks in both the taxiways and runways, totaling about 70,000 sq. meters (750,000 sq. feet) in damage.

An independent panel of engineers is due to begin a separate investigation, after which airport authorities plan to close the cracked taxiways for repairs, Somchai said. He said the cracks "at about 100 points" were mainly clustered around seven different areas.

The airport's two runways are each served by more than 10 taxiways, and any closures would not cause delays in air traffic, Somchai said.

Suvarnabhumi Airport was heralded as one of the crowning achievements of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Since his ouster in a Sept. 19 coup, the airport has become a focal point of corruption investigations into Thaksin's administration.

Since opening, the airport has faced problems with its baggage handling system and computerized check-in services, leading to lost luggage and long lines for passengers. It also underestimated the need for public toilets and officials have said new bathrooms will be built to meet the demand.

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