Bangkok's old airport reopens

Bangkok (XFN-ASIA) - Bangkok's nearly century-old Don Muang

airport reopened to domestic flights Sunday to ease crowds at the city's troubled

new airport, authorities said.

Don Muang was one of Asia's busiest hubs until it shut in September, following the opening of the sparkling new Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Some 140 flights carrying 20,000 passengers daily are now set to return to the airport, beloved by many for its quirks -- including a golf course between the main runways -- and its relatively easy access to downtown Bangkok.

The revived airport's first flight took off for flag carrier Thai Airways at 6.00 am for the northeastern city of Ubon Ratchathani, an airline spokesman said.

"Don Muang has reopened and is running smoothly," said a spokeswoman.

Thai Airways is keeping some flights to popular tourist destinations like Phuket and Chiang Mai at Suvarnabhumi in hopes of minimizing inconvenience to the more than 13 mln holidaymakers who visit Thailand each year.

Two other airlines, low-cost carriers Nok Airways and One-Two-Go, have moved their flights to Don Muang but international carriers have refused to leave Suvarnabhumi.

Thai Airways president Apinan Sumanaseni told reporters that many passengers were reluctant to fly through Don Muang because of worries over making their overseas connections.

"There is a problem at Suvarnabhumi now because there are many passengers who want to make connections between international and domestic flights," he said.

The airline was adjusting its schedules to try to accommodate passengers who do not want their flights moved from Suvarnabhumi, he said.

Don Muang was closed six months ago as officials hoped Suvarnabhumi would establish Bangkok as Southeast Asia's preeminent air hub.

Instead, the 3-bln-usd facility has been plagued by problems from cracks in the runways to complaints about safety and sanitation.

Officials say that moving domestic flights to the old airport will ease overcrowding at Suvarnabhumi and make it easier to repair the runways and fix other teething problems.

Although the new airport can handle 45 mln passengers a year, aviation authorities say it is rapidly nearing that mark with some 42.8 mln people flying through Bangkok last year.

Reopening Don Muang will allow the government to put off construction of a low-cost terminal at Suvarnabhumi and the expansion of the main terminal.

Tourism accounts for about 6 pct of the Thai economy, and industry experts have urged the government to focus its efforts on Suvarnabhumi, which was designed to be expanded to accommodate more than 100 mln passengers a year.

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