Bangkok's former Don Muang airport to reopen?

18 Jan 2007 by business traveller

It looks increasingly likely that the Thai authorities will transfer most domestic flights from Bangkok's new Suvarnabhumi airport back to the former Don Muang facility.

According to reports in the local press, the move is aimed at saving on airline operating costs, which are much higher at Suvarnabhumi. Thai Airways alone is reported as saying that the move to the new Suvarnabhumi airport has added millions of US dollars to its operating costs.

Asia's emerging budget or no-frills airlines have also complained about the increased cost of using Suvarnabhumi compared with Don Muang. They too are likely to want to transfer back in order to save money.

But moving flights from Suvarnabhumi will also free up space for the management to tackle a host of unresolved problems at the new airport (see below).

If approved, the move is likely to take effect in March with all domestic flights being switched to Don Muang with the exception of routes to Phuket, Chiang Mai and Krabi. According to Thai Airways' president Apinan Sumanaseni, these three routes will remain at Suvarnabhumi because they carry a lot of international transfer passengers so it will be easier for the latter to make connections. All international flights will remain at Suvarnabhumi.

But the move has been criticised by trade body IATA (International Air Transport Association). It has warned the AOT (Airports of Thailand, which is the body managing both Bangkok airports) that any move would damage Bangkok's potential for becoming an aviation hub in SE Asia.

Albert Tjoeng, a spokesperson for IATA's Asia-Pacific region, said: "Imagine a passenger arriving in Suvarnabhumi and having to catch a connecting or no-frills flight from Don Muang. How long will that connection take when you include baggage collection, transit and then check-in? If an airport wants to be a hub it's important to keep the connecting time low."

The airlines plan to operate shuttle buses between the two airports for passengers who need to transfer. But as the facilities are located on opposite sides of the city, the journey could take time given the unpredictable nature of Bangkok traffic.

Transferring the flights to Don Muang will free up capacity at Suvarnabhumi, which has been dogged with problems since its opening. Even though the airport is only four months old it has almost reached its design capacity of 45 million passengers. So with fewer flights, management would be able to tackle issues like cracking taxi-ways, insufficient toilets and congestion.

One Business Traveller reader just back from using Suvarnabhumi found "cracked floor tiles, malfunctioning air conditioning, huge walks (more than at Don Muang), incomplete lounges, unopened F&B outlets, shoddy baggage services and abysmal ground services".

Don Muang served as Bangkok's main airport for decades until being closed to civilian flights last September. It is still functioning as a Royal Thai Air Force base and Thai Airways continues to have a maintenance base there.

But passengers needn't worry about airline staff checking them to the wrong airport. Don Muang has adopted airline code DMK as its former BKK code has been taken by Suvarnabhumi.

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Report by Alex McWhirter

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