Thailand to expand Bangkoks Suvarnabhumi airport


Bangkok (Thomson Financial) - Thailand plans to spend about 3.7 billion baht ($117 million) this year on expanding its 18-month-old Suvarnabhumi airport, officials said Friday, building a third runway for the troubled hub. Since opening in September 2006, Bangkok's $3-billion international airport has been plagued by problems ranging from cracks in the runways to complaints about safety and sanitation.

Air Marshal Chana U-sathaporn, president of Suvarnabhumi operator Airport of Thailand (AoT), said about 10 upgrade projects were in the pipeline. "The expansion plan was suggested by Transport Minister Santi Prompat ... We have not discussed it in detail yet, but the ministry wants (runway construction) to begin within this year," Chana told Agence France-Presse.

AoT will spend about 3.6 billion baht on the third runway, while 114 million baht will also be spent this year on studies for future projects, which include the construction of a new passenger terminal in 2010, he said. Suvarnabhumi airport was the pet project of ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra but it eventually opened 10 days after the military staged a coup and overthrew him.

Just six months after the airport's triumphant launch, authorities re-opened Bangkok's nearly century-old Don Muang airport to domestic flights to ease crowds at Suvarnabhumi. The new airport can handle 45 million passengers a year, and numbers are already creeping up towards that figure. Thaksin's allies were voted back into government in elections in December last year.

An official at the transport ministry, who did not wish to be named, said the new government wanted to move all domestic flights back to Suvarnabhumi. "The government has a clear single-airport policy," he told AFP. "Don Muang will only be used for charter flights, air shows, for example. That will happen in the future, although we cannot say exactly when that can be."

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