A move is under way to clear up a state policy impediment and allow Don Mueang airport to serve all kinds of international carriers, not just budget airlines with point-to-point services.
Airports of Thailand advocates a fullscale role for Don Mueang, Bangkok’s No.2 airport. BOONSONG KOSITCHOTETHANA
The management of Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) will soon seek support from its board to push for a rewrite of the June 2012 cabinet resolution, which is seen as hindering efforts to attract more scheduled airlines to Bangkok's old airport.
"Why are we restricting Don Mueang's main role to serving only no-frills carriers while the airport has all the fundamentals to truly become Bangkok's second air hub alongside Suvarnabhumi airport?" asked AoT's acting president Somchai Sawasdeepon.
The key impediment centres around the wording in the cabinet resolution that says Don Mueang serves only low-cost carriers (LCCs) with point-to-point international and domestic services.
That seems to diminish the government's dual-airport policy to make Don Mueang a second international airport, not only to alleviate overcrowding at Suvarnabhumi but to cater to the fast-growing air traffic through the capital, said Mr Somchai.
Unless the definition of Don Mueang's role is amended, he said, it will be an uphill task to attract more airline traffic to the century-old airport on Bangkok's northern outskirts.
"With the existence of the cabinet resolution, we are barred from granting permission to non-LCCs to operate through Don Mueang, even though we wish to," Mr Somchai said.
An attempt launched about six months ago to lure 11 other LCCs, aside from the three AirAsia group airlines, to relocate their bases to Don Mueang from Suvarnabhumi has not come to fruition as expected.
"The chance is very slim due to prohibitive base change costs, probably outstripping the incentive package [including reduced landing and parking fees] we have extended to them," the acting AoT president told the Bangkok Post.
The airlines' reaction has hit the bid to make Don Mueang a fully fledged airport dedicated to LCCs, let alone being upgraded into a full-scale secondary airport and relieving traffic for Suvarnabhumi.
The main airport is being used beyond its capacity of 45 million passengers a year, while its expansion is still five years away from completion.
Suvarnabhumi's passenger traffic stood at 52.36 million in the year to September (up 9.8% year-on-year), consisting of 38.68 million international travellers (up 3.48%) and 13.68 million domestic travellers (up 31.37%), according to AoT statistics.
Total take-offs and landings at Suvarnabhumi were 326,970 in fiscal 2012 (up 13.32%), comprising 228,112 international flights (up 7.11%) and 98,868 domestic flights (up 30.81%).
Only one LCC group under Malaysia-based AirAsia _ namely Thai AirAsia, AirAsia (Malaysia) and Indonesia AirAsia _ has relocated to Don Mueang.
Tiger Airways, Jetstar Asia, Jetstar Airways, Cebu Pacific Air, Airberlin, T'Way Airlines, Eastar Jet, Jeju Air, Jin Air, IndiGo and Thomsonfly have all opted to stay at Suvarnabhumi.
Other discount airlines that started flying to Bangkok several months ago, such as Singapore's Scoot and China's Spring Air, have not shown any interest in shifting from Suvarnabhumi to Don Mueang.
The AirAsia group, Nok Air and Orient Thai are the only budget airlines operating at Don Mueang.
The failure to attract more passenger traffic could have implications for the restoration of facilities and redevelopment of Don Mueang, according to an industry analyst.
High on its work plan is the restoration of Terminal 2 (T2), which has been in a derelict state since it was closed in September 2006 when Suvarnabhumi took over as Bangkok's main airport.
The entire airport was devastated by Thailand's worst flood in 50 years in October 2011, though Terminal 1 (T1) was repaired and reopened in March last year, albeit initially only for Nok Air.
T1 got a major boost in October last year when AirAsia group, which generates the most LCC passenger volume through Thailand, moved its hub to Don Mueang from Suvarnabhumi.
But AoT planners believe the restoration of T2 needs to begin soon to catch up with traffic build-up at the airport, where facilities will soon be strained.
They see the need for T2 to be up and running to augment Don Mueang's capacity, now at 16.5 million passengers a year.
The combined passenger volume of the airport's two major no-frills carriers, AirAsia and Nok Air, was expected to increase to about 14 million last year.
If Don Mueang were allowed to serve a broader range of airlines, AoT could launch a sales pitch to draw carriers.
"I think airlines that start flying to Thailand would be keener to operate through Don Mueang than those already at Suvarnabhumi," Mr Somchai said.
About the author
- Writer: Boonsong Kositchotethana
Position: Deputy Editor Business