Golden Opportunity in the Golden Land

Sept. 1, 2006
Thai International’s operations at new Bangkok airport, Suvarnabhumi

Although it has been something of a rollercoaster ride, Bangkok's new airport—Suvarnabhumi, meaning 'golden land'—should open in late September 2006.

Tests and domestic flights are already underway, having commenced in late July. The gateway is significantly larger than the existing Don Muang facility and will initially cater to 45 million passengers per annum (mppa) via two runways, 120 gates, 360 check-in counters, 100 e-check-in positions and 27 baggage carousels.

With the potential of a new airport and the vital transit trade on Europe-Asia/Australasia routes on offer, the pressure is on home airline Thai International Airways (TG) to provide services in keeping with the new surroundings and ensure Bangkok remains a hub of choice.

The carrier seems to be making every effort. In terms of infrastructure, it has invested over 15,000 million baht (approximately $393 million) in its six main activities at Suvarnabhumi: cargo and mail, catering, ground support equipment services, aircraft maintenance, customer service and operations. The aim is to provide all services to the highest standards of quality and safety, thereby achieving complete customer satisfaction.

Ground Support Equipment Services alone will benefit from some 900 million Baht ($23.5 million), enabling an enhanced offering in key areas. To begin with, it will allow the carrier to make maximum use of operational areas located adjacent to the ramp. These will be used for both customer airlines' passengers and cargo aircrafts and together, with maintenance buildings, offices and the operations center for ground services, should ensure a far more efficient and effective product.

The airline will also introduce an advanced Resource Management System, part of a state-of-the-art information technology suite. The system will raise the bar yet again in terms of customer service standards, giving the carrier the ability to respond to specific needs, including calls for personnel and equipment.

The substantial investment will further allow Thai to upgrade wherever and whenever necessary. Additional money is expected to be available in the future and the airline anticipates using this to acquire the latest innovations in ground equipment technology and automotive equipment.

Pethai Boonyaves, managing director, Ground Support Equipment Services Department, Thai Airways International Public Company Limited, notes: "As the flag carrier we have been given the authority to provide a full handling service under the concept of a one-stop shop.

"Our quality services will provide customer airlines with a full range of facilities and infrastructure at all levels up to world class service. We are certified in ISO 9001:2000, SLA AHM804 and workplace safety and also provide IT systems, CCTV and smart cards."

Baggage safety

The ground service department is responsible for customer airlines' landings and departures, baggage sorting, power supply, aircraft cleaning and internal transportation.

Baggage sorting will be heavily scrutinized as Don Muang has had some notable problems in the past with lost or broken luggage. At Suvarnabhumi, Thai will utilize separate luggage-belt lines between departure and transfer areas, a method that has become standard in many new airports.

"AOT has designed the BHS (Baggage Handling System) and TG will provide the BRS (Baggage Reconciliation System) to control baggage, preventing them from being sent to the wrong destination and ensuring none is left behind or lost," says Pethai.

Indeed, while a lot of effort has been put into Suvarnabhumi's infrastructure, Thai hasn't forgotten that the staff still form the cornerstone of service. Human resources will be every bit as important as new technology. It is reported the airline will hire nearly 800 more employees on both a permanent and temporary basis, bringing the department total to over 2,500 employees.

"Because Suvarnabhumi is five times bigger than Don Muang airport, we need more staff to cope with handling services for the aircraft," reveals Pethai. "We plan to increase the number of staff at the new airport in accordance with load demand."

All staff is trained in-house on the latest ground support techniques, procedures and equipment and there is an annual refresher course, allowing them to brush up on any neglected skills. Pethai notes the carrier is placing a greater emphasis on safety—Thai may be looking to provide a more effective service, but won't take any risks in pursuing that aim.


The safety focus is warranted given the greater number and size of aircraft that will be passing through the new Bangkok hub. Thai International Airways has six A380s awaiting delivery in 2008 and 2009. This is in addition to the likes of Lufthansa and Qantas, which will possibly be transiting the aircraft at Bangkok on Australian flights.

The two runways that will service Suvarnabhumi in its initial phase are both A380 compliant, while the terminal will feature five gates specifically tailored for the 500-plus passengers each A380 flight will carry.

"At the moment, the equipment is ready to serve everything from narrow bodies to aircraft such as the B747," notes Pethai. "As Suvarnabhumi is also designed to support large aircraft like the A380, TG has plans to purchase equipment which will serve this type of aircraft—not only for customer airlines but also for TG itself."

Thai currently has more than 600 units at Don Muang excluding support equipment and is planning to increase that by around 33-percent at Suvarnabhumi to cope with increased demand and aircraft size.

Thai will certainly need all the equipment and staff it can handle because ground services at the new airport come complete with competition. Local boutique carrier, Bangkok Airways, has joined up with Worldwide Flight Services (WFS) to offer ramp and cargo alternatives, with check-in still a possibility. It will also do catering via its subsidiary company, BangkokAir Caterers.

The WFS-Bangkok Airways joint venture reports it has built two facilities—an Air Cargo Terminal with an initial design capacity of 350,000 tons and a Ground Support Equipment Maintenance facility. It expects to handle over 14,000 international flights in the first year of operation, expanding over time. Over 700 pieces of motorized and non-motorized equipment will assist the operation, part of a $55 million investment. Annual revenue is projected to be in the region of $42 million.

However, Pethai is confident that the presence of a rival "should not have much effect on our services. We are a service provider with a large network and this helps us in providing convenience and comfort," he says.

Service level agreements together with additional value added products such as a task force team and express services will further add to what Thai labels a "World Class Ground Support Equipment Services Provider."

Fulfilling that vision is now the task ahead for Pethai. "We will improve service processes through quality and punctuality, including baggage service excellence and safety and security on all services," he affirms. "Also we will design internal processes which simplify and provide a seamless service."

The airline also plans to offer competitive business terms to its customer airlines via a proactive marketing plan. It will upgrade its ground equipment as necessary and concentrate on becoming a customer-centric organization, peopled by more highly skilled staff with a "service mindset."

The department has forecast more revenue this year than in 2005 and expects to earn higher profits once it makes the full move to Suvarnabhumi. "Our goal is for revenue growth by improving working efficiency and thereby gaining our customers' trust," concludes Pethai.