Airlines Against AOT plan

Oppose 2 international airports

Aviation industry representatives yesterday supported Thai Airways International union members in their opposition to plans to use Don Mueang as an international airport again.The union has threatened industrial action if the idea is not scrapped.

An Airports of Thailand (AOT) seminar heard industry members preferred a single international airport.

If Don Mueang is reopened to international flights, airlines will have to spend more operating at both locations, they said.

The union, which represents more than half the airline's 26,000 employees, said having two international airports would increase operating expenses and create unfair competition. It will take a "series of actions" if the plan is not axed, it said in a statement.

Don Mueang, the former international airport, is used by domestic airlines, but AOT has been pushing for it to take international flights because Suvarnabhumi Airport is expected to reach capacity next year.

Many airlines oppose moving from Suvarnabhumi, which opened in September last year.

A proposed third runway and additional terminal for Suvarnabhumi would boost annual capacity to 60 million passengers from 45 million. However, these would not be completed before 2013.

Orient Thai Airlines chief executive Udom Tantiprasongchai said the government should find other alternatives to the capacity problem, instead of moving the airport back and forth. "It will destroy the whole industry," he said.

AOT senior official Kalaya Phakakrong said the company was burdened by interest payments of about Bt2 billion a year.

A third runway would cost Bt67 billion, while the AOT has annual cash flow of Bt14 billion.

Construction would up the debt burden to Bt6 billion a year, she said.

Kalaya argued that having Don Mueang operate international flights would allow more low-cost airlines to return there. Don Mueang passengers would increase from seven million to 10 million a year, too.

AOT director Chirmsak Pinthong said Don Mueang cost it almost Bt120 million a month. Income is Bt57 million, but expenses are Bt173 million.

He said AOT would make a final decision on Don Mueang's status within two weeks.

A senior executive at Thai Airways, Chokechai Panyayong, said a single airport was a better solution for airlines and their passengers. Passengers will experience difficulties because of the distance between the two and the lack of direct transport.

Aviation Department deputy director-general Khannikar Kemavuthanon said it was "firm" in its single-airport policy.

Watcharapong Thongrung

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