Brakes put on airport transfer plan

Brakes put on airport transfer plan

Two likely options to get proposal on track

Hua Hin airport is one of the facilities currently managed by the Department of Airports. (Bangkok Post file photo)
Hua Hin airport is one of the facilities currently managed by the Department of Airports. (Bangkok Post file photo)

Deputy Transport Minister Thaworn Senneam has put the brakes on a plan to transfer four airports under the supervision of the Department of Airports (DOA) to the Airports of Thailand (AoT) Plc to manage, saying a thorough study is necessary to avoid legal problems and benefit the public.

Mr Thaworn said the airport handover cannot proceed until it is established whether the law allows it. He said the four airports run by the DOA are considered state assets and their transfer to the AoT, which is a state enterprise agency and a listed company, may violate the law.

The deputy minister said he has assigned the DOA to hire the Thailand Development Research Institute to study the issue and ensure that the process is lawful and in the public interest.

The transfer is targeted to provide improved services for airliners and air travelers. AoT is the operator of six airports, including Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang.

The board of AoT agreed to the transfer of four airports in Udon Thani, Tak, Krabi and Buri Ram, while the Transport Ministry had initially mulled the transfer of four airports in Udon Thani, Sakon Nakhon, Tak and Chumphon.

Mr Thaworn said while the cabinet agreed in principle with the airport transfer plan, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the process must be in line with the law and regulations.

"We're unable to proceed with the handover due to legal concerns. The AoT is a listed state enterprise and it may be seen as transferring state assets to the private sector," he said.

Mr Thaworn said two options are likely to be studied — the DOT hiring the AoT to manage the airports or the AoT leasing and managing the airports and investing in airport upgrades.

"If the AoT is hired to manage the airports and it uses the DOA's resources, that can also cause legal problems. So the most feasible option is for the AoT to lease and manage the airports, plus invest in upgrades. The airports will remain state-owned when the contracts end," he said.

Mr Thaworn said the issue will be submitted to a Transport Ministry-appointed panel set up to clear those hand-over hurdles.

The panel is chaired by the transport permanent secretary.

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