Last rites for boneyard
With a century-old history, Don Mueang is not only among Asia's oldest airports but has also evolved over the past decade into the region's only known aircraft boneyard, somewhat unintentionally.
- Published: 7/05/2013 at 12:00 AM
- Newspaper section: topstories
A truck takes parts removed from a dismembered Thai Airways A300 at Don Mueang airport’s boneyard. BOONSONG KOSITCHOTETHANA
But the resting place for 33 retired aircraft, ranging from the B747 "Queen of the Sky" to the small Jetstream turboprop designed by British Aerospace, has received an ultimatum to clear them out by the end of this year.
These decommissioned aircraft, which are parked in front of the southern wing of Don Mueang airport (DMK), are perceived as an eyesore taking up huge space that would otherwise be used for parking operating aircraft.
"These old planes not only tarnish DMK's image but waste space that could be used for today's operations and get in the way of airport redevelopment," said Sita Divari, chairman of Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT).
He vowed to clear all these derelict metal birds away from the area, which covers almost the entire breadth of DMK's old cargo zone, between now and the end of this year.
"Over the next three months, the number [of derelict planes] should be slashed to 18 and become less and less afterwards," Mr Sita said.
The state-controlled airport operator has taken the boneyard issue more seriously as air traffic at DMK has built up before a 10-billion-baht overhaul to make it a fully fledged Bangkok air hub by 2016.
The AoT board recently agreed in principle to go ahead with the major renovation, which centres around the revival of Terminal 2, a facelift of Terminal 1 and improvement of other facilities.
DMK's overhaul falls in line with an overall state policy change, made early in 2012, which officially turned DMK into Bangkok's second air hub, not just serving point-to-point domestic flights by budget carriers.
The renovation is also meant to relieve congestion at the flagship Suvarnabhumi airport.
The aircraft parked in the boneyard fall into three categories: junk to be turned into scrap metal, those retired from service but still flyable, and those at the end of their service life.
More than 20 aircraft are classified as junk, a senior AoT executive said on condition of anonymity.
The aircraft at the boneyard once served six operators: Thai Airways International, Orient Thai Airlines and its sister budget carrier One-Two-Go, Phuket Airlines, Thai Sky Airlines and Air Andaman.
Thai Sky Airlines, Phuket Airlines and Air Andaman abandoned their end-of-life aircraft at DMK when they went out of business.
Other aircraft, such as those operated by Orient Thai and defunct One-Two-Go, were technically owned by aircraft-leasing firms that chose to leave them at DMK.
Jetliners in Orient Thai and One-Two-Go liveries, generally B747s or from the McDonnell Douglas' MD-80 series, constitute the bulk of aircraft in the graveyard.
Owners of these aircraft have taken advantage of relatively cheap parking fees at AoT-operated airports as the costs of removing them to their premises abroad are prohibitive.
The daily charges are 3,540 baht for a B747, 1,230 baht for an MD-80 series and 2,208 baht for an A310.
Previous AoT management did not object to the long-term parking of these outdated planes because it had been decided to close the airport for good as Suvarnabhumi went on stream as Bangkok's sole international airport in September 2006.
"The old AoT management may have thought that they still could make some money out of the old aircraft," the AoT source said.
The number of parked aircraft gradually soared and it became difficult to get rid of them because several cases involving the aircraft have been pending in courts, he explained.
But this time around, AoT believes it has the legal right to have all these aircraft removed. It has already served notices for their removal.
How these aircraft are removed is in the hands of the owners and those airlines that once operated them.
Such aircraft are generally salvaged for parts and broken down for scrap. A B747 (Orient Thai), a B300 (Thai Airways) and an MD-80 (One-Two-Go) have undergone such an exercise at DMK.
A worker for SSK Metal Co, which was assigned to do the job on behalf of a US firm, said the company is also contracted to dismantle four Thai Airways' A300 jetliners under the supervision of engineers from the flag carrier.
It takes 15 workers and about one month to break up an A300. Usable parts are shipped overseas for the US firm, while aluminum scrap goes to local recycling plants.
AoT want the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) to raise the fees for extended parking to make it prohibitive for operators to abandon aircraft.
It also urges the government to consider setting aside remote areas, probably at the DCA's inactive provincial airfields, as sites where old planes can go to die.
AoT has learned its lesson and it will not allow its airports to be turned into a plane boneyard, the AoT source said.
About the author
- Writer: Boonsong Kositchotethana
- Position: Deputy Editor Business