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CRITICS OF the controversial Suvarnabhumi Airport expansion project have warned that the country’s biggest international gateway could dip further in global rankings if its proposed second terminal building is improperly located.
At a seminar titled “Suvarnabhumi’s Chance to be one of the World’s Three Best Airports”, several experts accused the state-owned Airports of Thailand (AOT) of failing to properly implement the Bt42-billion expansion project. The seminar was organised by the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand.
AOT president Nitinai Sirismartthakarn pulled out at the last minute after previously agreeing to speak at the seminar.
Meanwhile, Architect Council of Thailand secretary-general ML Prakitti Kasemsant said it would be better for AOT to expand the current passenger terminal by building annexes to both the east and west, rather than constructing a separate terminal in the airport’s eastern area.
According to the master plan, he said, the second passenger terminal is supposed to be built in the airport’s southern area facing Bang Na-Trat Highway, and not in the eastern area near the already overcrowded Bangkok-Chon Buri motorway.
In addition, the cost of building two annexes, one on each end of the current terminal, will be far cheaper than building a second terminal in the congested area and worsening the traffic.
In the 2018 Skytrax ranking of world airports in terms of passenger satisfaction, Suvarnabhumi was placed 36th, far behind regional competitors including Singapore’s Changi Airport (No 1), South Korea’s Incheon Airport (No 2), Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (No 3) and Hong Kong Airport (No 4). Doha’s Hamad Airport place rounded out the top 5.
Deunden Nikomborirak, director of the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), told the seminar that Suvarnabhumi’s performance in the global rankings had not improved over the past six years.
The quality of its service has remained low, with Suvarnabhumi averaging only three out of five stars.
Long waiting times for Immigration, issues with the transit day room, too few mobile-phone charging points, bad staff attitude, language fluency and dissatisfaction with information kiosks are among the weaknesses cited by international passengers.
Critics pointed out that the AOT, which is majority owned by the government, is listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand and earned as much as Bt31 billion in the last fiscal year, should have enough funds to improve its quality and boost passenger satisfaction.
Another critical weakness is the lack of effective oversight of AOT by the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand, they said.
Given that the airport’s eastern area is already congested, the Bt42-billion second terminal will most likely not be able to achieve the target of boosting the airport’s passenger-handling capacity by 30 million,
Totrakoon Yamanak of the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative said.
According to Totrakoon, chaos in Suvarnabhumi will hit the tourism industry and adversely affect the country’s economy. The airport currently serves about 60 million visitors per year despite its official capacity of 45 million. Tourism revenue accounts for more than 10 per cent of Thailand’s GDP, with international arrivals approaching 40 million per year.
Samart Ratchapolsitte, a former deputy Bangkok governor and engineer who worked on Suvarnabhumi’s master plan, compared the proposed second passenger terminal to dropping a 300,000-square-metre shopping mall on a small road. There will be nothing but chaos inside the airport, he warned.
Samart also told the seminar that AOT should expand its current terminal by adding two annexes to boost passenger-handling capacity by 30 million per year. Later, a separate second terminal should be built, but in the airport’s southern area as per the master plan.
Otherwise, Suvarnabhumi is likely to see its ranking drop further from its current 36th slot.