Thailand would do best to focus on further developing Suvarnabhumi Airport as its sole hub in the long run while maintaining the status quo of Don Mueang in the short to medium term to provide relief capacity.
IATA believes Suvarnabhumi’s annual handling capacity must rise to 60-65 million passengers from 45 million to serve the single-airport policy.
The recommendations are contained in the latest study into the matter, commissioned by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT).
Officials hope the proposals will resolve the repeated state policy flip-flops over whether Bangkok should be served by one or two international airports.
IATA, a global airline industry body, advocates Suvarnabhumi becoming the country’s only main air hub in 2030, when century-old Don Mueang would stop offering scheduled flight service altogether.
However, the IATA report as summarised by AoT suggests that between now and 2015 Don Mueang continue in its current role of providing point-to-point scheduled domestic service to allow time for Suvarnabhumi to develop the additional capacity needed to meet rising demand.
The report views a single-airport operation as ideal for Thailand, further underscoring the position IATA held before Suvarnabhumi opened in September 2006.
It said construction of a third runway at Suvarnabhumi and other related infrastructure must be completed and operational by 2024 to meet rising passenger and aircraft flows.
That time frame requires AoT to receive government approval for the project by 2015.
In parallel, the report advises AoT to proceed with development of commercial projects at Don Mueang as it terminates scheduled flights.
Previous suggestions for the old airport have included serving charter flights and being turned into an aircraft maintenance and pilot training centre or even the completely different trade exhibition and convention facilities.
Rob Eagles, IATA’s director for infrastructure strategy, told the Bangkok Post from Geneva, Switzerland that having Suvarnabhumi as Bangkok’s sole gateway airport would serve the best interests of all concerned – operators, passengers and the overall economy.
The Montreal-based aviation strategist urged Thailand “absolutely” to focus on upgrading Suvarnabhumi and operating from only one base.
He said that AoT could overcome the looming congestion issues at Suvarnabhumi by improving efficiency via an airspace redesign or implementing new performance-based navigation procedures.
But AoT must work with organisations such as IATA to secure currently available efficiency gains, said Mr Eagles.
Somchai Sawasdeepon, a senior executive vice-president at AoT, said his company and the Transport Ministry had not decided whether to follow IATA’s suggestions.
The IATA report will be considered along with another study now being conducted by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation and due next February.