AIRPORTS / REGIONAL COMPETITIVENESS
Changi expansion hurts Suvarnabhumi
Bangkok is losing more ground in the battle to become Southeast Asia's aviation hub to rival Singapore, and may miss out on the benefits arising from surging air traffic growth.
Aviation experts said yesterday that Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport may suffer after Singapore today officially opens the US$1.22-billion Terminal 3 (T3) that will raise boost Changi Airport's passenger handling capacity to 70 million passengers a year.
The 155-billion-baht Suvarnabhumi is still plagued with operating troubles and construction flaws stemming from its premature opening in September 2006. And the trouble is only set to get worse: Crowding problems will likely reach a critical point this year when the airport hits its designed capacity of 45 million passengers a year.Furthermore, the plan to expand Suvarnabhumi remains unclear. The government has been unable to spell out a clear policy on whether the old Don Mueang Airport should also handle international traffic to relieve congestion at Suvarnabhumi.
''If an airport doesn't have the capacity to accommodate growth, airlines and passengers will end up going to an airport that has this capacity. Singapore is ready to handle the additional passengers,'' the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said.
T3's opening will enhance Changi's position as the region's air hub, enabling it to meet the 5.9% annual growth rate anticipated in Asia Pacific between 2007 and 2011. That translates into 300 million additional passengers in Asia over the next five years, noted Albert Tjoeng, the IATA spokesman for Asia Pacific.
Airports in Asia need to continue planning and investing in additional capacity in order to keep pace with expected traffic growth, and ensure that the capacity is efficiently utilised, said the Geneva-based IATA.
The seven-storey T3 is capable of handling 22 million passengers a year, boasting 28 aerobridges, including eight that cater to the Airbus A380. Passenger throughput at Changi airport in the first ten months of last year rose 4.9% year-on-year to 30 million, with cargo rising 0.8% to 1.56 million tons on a 3.2% increase in aircraft movements, according to the latest figures from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore.
However, Kulya Pakakrong, a senior executive vice-president at Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT), downplayed the impact of Changi's expansion on Suvarnabhumi.
''Airlines and passengers going to Singapore represent different market groups, mostly involving corporate travellers, while those coming to Thai airports are largely tourists,'' she said yesterday.
''It is those passengers who cause airlines to fly to Bangkok,'' she added, noting that the state-controlled airport monopoly kept a careful eye on what its regional competitors are up to. ''It's not that we (AoT) do not want to further develop Suvarnabhumi to keep pace with others, but we cannot make all the decision by ourselves,'' Mrs Kulya said.
She insisted that it has been AoT management's desire to constantly develop its facilities ahead of anticipated future traffic demand. But the final decision rests on the next government as the current military-installed administration does not have the political will to decide on airport policy.
For the time being, AoT has asked the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a UN body, to come up with recommendations on whether Bangkok should be served by one or two airports. But regardless of whether international air traffic is diverted to the 93-year-old Don Mueang airport, phase one of Suvarnabhumi's expansion may need to commence next year, Mrs Kulya stated.
The expansion, estimated to cost 67 billion baht, calls for the construction of a mid-field terminal and a third runway. It would raise the airport's capacity to 60 million passengers a year.
In its first year to Sept 30, Suvarnabhumi handled 41.93 million passengers, 267,555 take-offs and landings, and 1.18 million tonnes of cargo.
Serirat Prasutanond, the general manager of Suvarnabhumi airport, yesterday confirmed that passenger throughput for 2008 would certainly reach 45 million if international air traffic was not diverted to Don Mueang.