Though authorities have certified it as safe and functional, doubts are cropping up whether Don Mueang airport is structurally sufficient to endure a heavier flow of flights over the long run.
A Thai AirAsia A320 docks at Don Mueang’s T1 after the terminal’s restoration. BOONSONG KOSITCHOTETHANA
The upgrade and restorations for all the vital facilities at Bangkok's old airport, especially passenger Terminal 1 (T1), the runways and the taxiways, were for "temporary" use and these structures still have some risks.
After being submerged in flood waters for about two months last year, with passenger terminals that have not been updated for over 25 years, the entire airport warrants a thorough look, said Somchai Sawasdeepon, acting president of Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT).
"We need to x-ray Don Mueang to get a good 3D picture and be absolutely sure it possesses the foundation required for long-term use and upgrades," he added.
An engineer by background, Mr Somchai asserted if any parts of the airport were not up to scratch they would be knocked down and rebuilt accordingly.
"It's not worth it for a structure to collapse and then do something about it later," said Mr Somchai, concurrently AoT senior executive vice-president and general manager of Suvarnabhumi airport.
The AoT is in talks with the Engineering Institute of Thailand (EIT) to use its expertise to carry out an in-depth inspection of Don Mueang's overall strength, particularly on subsurface foundations.
A thorough examination is essential before the AoT can map out any plans for further upgrades of T1 and the restoration of the adjacent T2, which has been in a derelict state since it was closed in 2006, with much of the supporting facilities removed for use elsewhere.
AoT rushed to make Don Mueang functional with international passenger processing facilities and the ability to serve greater traffic with the migration of low-cost carrier AirAsia from Suvarnabhumi on Oct 1.
"T1 is all right up to a certain level, bearing in mind that the upgrades were for temporary use," said Mr Somchai. "It still needs further improvement."
Don Mueang, once one of Asia's busiest airports processing 36.5 million passengers a year before Suvarnabhumi opened in 2006, was devastated by Thailand's worst flood in half a century last year. The century-old airfield closed from October to March this year.
With new Transport Minister Chatchart Sithipan pushing for T2 to return to service next year to deal with potential overcrowding, Mr Somchai wants restoration to begin soon.
He expects T2 should be up and running in two and a half years, when T1's capacity _ 16.5 million a year _ reaches its breaking point. The combined passenger volume for the two major no-frills carriers at Don Mueang, AirAsia and Nok Air, is expected to ramp up to 14 million in the current fiscal year.
The T2 restoration is likely to be much more extensive and costly than T1's.
A grander renovation of Don Mueang is on the AoT drawing board, a three-stage development over a decade so that it can ultimately handle 66.5 million passengers a year in 2027. The plan is to dedicate Don Mueang mainly to low-cost carriers serving point-to-point flights and charter operators.
About the author
- Writer: Boonsong Kositchotethana
Position: Deputy Editor Business