Thailand: Airport Officials Says Cargo Communication System a Complete Failure

Information technology problems and inexperienced staff have resulted in losses for private shippers at the recently opened Suvarnabhumi Airport.


Section: General News - Information technology problems and inexperienced staff have resulted in losses for private shippers at the recently opened Suvarnabhumi Airport, Customs Department officials acknowledged on October 6, the Bangkok Post reports.

The customs-free zone at the new airport has been a scene of chaos since the 125 billion baht airport formally opened last month, with shippers reporting lengthy paperwork delays, missing shipments and communication problems.

Customs officials said the problems stemmed from failures in the Air Cargo Communication System (ACCS), set up by Airports of Thailand to manage shipments moving through the airport. ACCS has proved a complete failure to date, said Suriya Sukanand, director of the Suvarnabhumi office of the Customs Department.

Officials also blame the disarray on the inexperience of cargo handling newcomer Bangkok Flight Services (BFS), a 50:50 joint venture between French-owned Worldwide Flight Services and Bangkok Airways. Some shippers are reportedly planning to take legal action against BFS for the delays. BFS and Thai Airways International are the main cargo handlers at the airport.

ACCS comprises eight sub-systems that electronically control all cargo handling in and out of the customs-free zone. AOT has vowed to address the problems within the ACCS within the next three months.

In the meantime, the AOT has requested that the Customs Department use its existing EDI (electronic data interchange) platform, a system that has been used for the past decade at Don Muang Airport. But this also led to problems, as BFS encountered difficulties in linking up with the EDI system, resulting in lost cargo, delayed deliveries and improper accounting, Mr Suriya said.

Customs officials then decided to use manual processing to get around the difficulties in the computer networks, but BFS staff had trouble handling the system.

"BFS staff have also had difficulties in keying in invoice data for transmission to the Customs Department, resulting in further delays for exporters and importers," Mr Suriya said.

Responding to the allegations, Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth, the founder and chief executive of Bangkok Airways, acknowledged that problems had occurred due to inexperienced staff.

BFS staff had been trained to operate using the ACCS system, not manual processing, he said.

Dr Prasert insisted that the company was making progress in addressing the issues, with new staff brought in to help with the workload. Operations are expected to turn to normal within the next several weeks, he added.

"I've been personally monitoring the situation everyday and all of us have been proactive to resolve problems," he said in a phone interview from Japan.

BFS had also paid full compensation to all affected parties in accordance with international practice, Dr Prasert said.

BFS managing director Stewart Sinclair said the decision by AOT to downgrade from the ACCS to the EDI system had forced the company to rewrite its interfaces linking the company's own cargo management systems with those of the Customs Department.

Delays have occurred due to the fact that BFS now must input a much greater amount of information than originally anticipated under the ACCS, he said.

Infrastructure problems, coupled with the lack of sufficient warehouses for freight forwarders, had also complicated cargo management within the customs free zone.

"We have met with the freight forwarder community on several occasions and also met with various other stakeholders to find suitable workable solutions to this problem which has resulted in the forwarders being allowed to move into the second row warehouses on a temporary basis for two months," Mr Sinclair said.

"If this current arrangement remains in place, BFS will be well placed to dramatically improve our service to customers as this more closely represents the original operating procedures for the customs-free zone." BFS is a newcomer to the cargo handling field, and won the contract at Suvarnabhumi after Thai Airport Ground Services, which had operated at Don Muang, failed to pass screening.

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