IATA: Airline sector in need of repair

IATA: Airline sector in need of repair

Latest report warns of systemic deficiencies

A capacity crunch and operational concerns at Suvarnabhumi airport could affect Thailand's aviation and tourism industry, analysts warn. PATTARAPONG CHATPATTARASILL
A capacity crunch and operational concerns at Suvarnabhumi airport could affect Thailand's aviation and tourism industry, analysts warn. PATTARAPONG CHATPATTARASILL

The global airline trade group has warned that the future of Thailand's aviation and tourism industry is being jeopardised by several critical issues.

An airport capacity crunch, safety and operational concerns at gateway Suvarnabhumi airport, a lack of coordinated strategy and the higher cost of flying could hinder growth of the sector, said the International Air Transport Association.

IATA, which represents some 260 airlines or 83% of total global air traffic, said these issues must be addressed by all stakeholders collectively.

"Aviation is critical to Thailand's economic success, a backbone of its burgeoning tourism industry and providing critical global business links," IATA said in a 13-page report submitted recently to Thai authorities.

The trade group estimates that aviation and related activities account for 2 million jobs in Thailand and generate US$29 billion (about 984 billion baht) in GDP.

By 2035, the numbers could grow to 3.8 million jobs and $53 billion in GDP.

Failing to resolve issues promptly could undermine the potential for Thailand to become a top-10 air passenger market by the early-2030s, Conrad Clifford, regional vice-president for Asia-Pacific at IATA, told the Bangkok Post.

IATA is strongly advocating three priorities, primarily for Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang and Phuket airports -- the busiest and most stretched facilities -- but also for the development and operations of other Thai airports.

Immediate top priority

The most immediate safety and operational concerns which IATA and member airlines have grave concern is over the safety at Suvarnabhumi due to the tarmac and taxiway cracks and soft spots there.

Despite the Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT), implementing temporary remedial repairs, the reported incidents are steadily increasing.

IATA has previously received assurances from AoT that a project was approved and would be undertaken in July 2015 to implement a permanent fix for this soft spot problem using concrete rigid pavement to replace asphalt. That did not happen.

IATA now urges that AoT urgently commit to implementing a permanent solution to the long standing soft tarmac issue which dates back to 2008.

Coordinated strategy

Secondly, IATA said there is an urgent need to formulate and implement a coordinated short and long term strategy for airports in Bangkok and beyond, to meet the growing demands of air travel.

In particular, prioritising investment in the development of Suvarnabhumi as a major regional aviation hub is critical to the economic success of aviation in Bangkok and to the Thai economy.

The airline industry strongly supports the approval of Phase 2 terminal expansion plans to relieve congestion and maintain a focus on passenger experience.

But with a 51 million passenger per annum throughput and 10% annual growth, there is an urgent need to add capacity to deal with the current yearly capacity of 45 million passengers.

IATA continues to support a strategy to prioritise investment in Suvarnabhumi's hub airport facilities, versus other airport development options in Bangkok, as the most effective to support growth in connecting traffic.

Promoting a single airport hub in Bangkok is also the most operationally efficient solution for users, IATA said.

The group also strongly suggests that the next Phase 3 of Suvarnabhumi's development enter the conceptual planning stage as soon as possible, to ensure infrastructure capacity meets traffic forecast demand and avoids future infrastructure bottlenecks.

However, the association noted that a third runway at Suvarnabhumi should only be constructed when traffic forecasts dictate that it is required.

And only then once airlines have confirmed they are able to fund the cost of the infrastructure, through a process of consultation that should also apply to terminal expansion and any other major projects.

"A third runway should not be constructed to compensate for regular closures of one of the two existing runways, which should be comprehensively maintained at internationally recognised standards."

For Don Mueang, which has now reached capacity, IATA said the airline community fully supports the efficient utilisation of airport existing assets, however not at any cost, and certainly not to the detriment of connectivity and passenger experience.

IATA says the Thai government's plan to develop the navy-operated U-tapao in Rayong as a third airport serving Bangkok would be a serious error.

"It could cause international airlines splitting their operations across airports which would result in uncompetitive and operational inefficiency."

According to IATA, U-tapao could feasibly be used as a reliever airport for domestic or seasonal charter flights, on the basis no transfer traffic exists between the airport and any other of Bangkok's airports, and as part of the strategy to prioritise investment and support connectivity at Suvarnabhumi.

At Phuket airport, IATA pointed out that congestion and slot allocation due to a single runway and limited taxiway capacity is also an issue.

The incremental passenger handling capacity at the airport to 12.5 million passengers a year late in 2016 will provide a brief respite.

It will quickly add pressure on the infrastructure as passenger throughput and aircraft movements continue to grow, outstripping the design capacity.

Phuket handled 12.5 million passengers in 2015 against its previous design annual capacity of 6.5 million.

IATA said a master plan needs to be formed for Phuket with airline inputs.

Higher costs

IATA said a spate of new charges and fees proposed in recent times will increase the industry's cost burden significantly.

These new cost items are highly fragmented and appear to be indiscriminately burdened on the industry without any proper consultation with industry stakeholders nor with any consideration for their negative impact on the growth of Thailand's aviation industry or tourism industry which contributes significantly to Thailand's economic prosperity.

IATA said the cost of flying in Thailand need to be kept competitive in order to sustain air traffic growth and fuel tourism and trade of the country.

Significant cost increases arising from the implementation of advance passenger processing system, funding of state security functions, possibility of a higher passenger service charge, and proposals of new charges such as a levy to fund the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand.

"There must be conscious efforts made to contain the cost of flying in Thailand for the aviation industry and tourism industry to thrive," IATA said.

Mr Clifford said IATA has considerable experience with these issues and can assist the Thai government and relevant authorities in the development and implementation of an action plan to meet present and future aviation requirements.

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