Air Transport World

Bangkok's troubled airport.(Suvarnabhumi International Airport)

THAILAND'S CAPITAL CITY HAS A big beautiful new airport with a big ugly problem. Suvarnabhumi International is enormous and has the potential to rival Singapore Changi for Southeast Asian hub traffic. More than 40 years in the planning, it opened to full operations last Sept. 28 with the usual new-airport glitches: Confusing signage, unbalanced lighting and cooling, not enough toilets, balky new systems and the like. These have, for the most part, been corrected.

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Then in late January, cracks began appearing in airfield pavement, first in taxiways and later in runways.

The largest public-works project in Thai history, Suvarnabhumi, which means "golden land," was built on a site known as the Cobra Swamp. "We expected the pavement to subside, but not so quickly," Flying Officer Narongchai Tanadchangsaeng, Airports of Thailand deputy GM-finance and administration, tells ATW. "Suvarnabhumi is below the water table. This is the first time anything like this has been built in Thailand," adds Chokchai Panyayong, Thai Airways International VP-project development for the new airport.

Emergency repairs were started immediately and at least three groups convened to study the problem and recommend solutions. At the same time, politicians and the Bangkok press exaggerated the extent of the cracking and claimed it, along with the airport's other shortcomings, proved that the previous government, which built it, was pervaded with corruption. Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, overthrown by a military coup just 10 days before the airport opened, took full credit for Suvarnabhumi and proclaimed it his shining achievement. Now his critics claim it was carelessly designed and shoddily built, with payoffs and insider deals given precedence over technical expertise. …

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