AIRPORT PROFILES Last modified on April 8, 2011

Good times

Joe Bates discovers more about the ambitions and development plans of Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Airports of Thailand (AoT) is confident that the record 42.3 million passengers to pass through Bangkok Suvarnabhumi in 2010 ensures that its prize asset is well and truly back on track.

The healthy 4.4% rise in throughput follows 2009’s 4.9% upturn in traffic and means that Thailand’s showpiece gateway is finally beginning to realise its potential after a difficult few years due to the economic downturn and political unrest.

The last time traffic through Bangkok hit such a high was in 2006 when 43.1 million passengers were split between the newly opened Suvarnabhumi (11.6 million) and Don Mueang Airport (31.4 million).

The downtown Bangkok gateway, which was originally set to close when Suvarnabhumi Airport opened, is still used today by low-cost carriers Nok Air and One-two-GO Airlines.

Between them, Bangkok’s airports handled a total of 57.1 million passengers, 1.3 million tonnes of freight and 380,894 aircraft movements in 2010.

AoT president, Serirat Prasutanond, says: “I think that 2010 will be remembered as a good year for Suvarnabhumi as we have experienced strong traffic growth in a difficult operating environment.

“I believe that things can also only get better in the years ahead as the global economy picks up and our planned new facilities come on-line.

“Thailand continues to be a popular and well established tourism destination. Providing there are no further crises, we expect passenger traffic to grow by between 7% and 8% per annum for the foreseeable future.”

Other reasons for AoT to be cheerful are the Thai government’s decision to has rubber stamp the next phase of Suvarnabhumi’s infrastructure development and the August 2010 opening of its eagerly awaited train link to downtown Bangkok.

The newly approved $1.89 billion master plan, set to be completed between 2011-2016, will boost the airport’s capacity from 45mppa to in excess of 60mppa.

Its six key projects include a new, 28-gate Midfield Satellite Terminal capable of accommodating aircraft up to the size of the A380.

The complex – which necessitates the addition of another one million square metres of apron – will be located 800 metres south of the main terminal building and linked by Automated
People Mover operating in an underground tunnel under the runway.

Other major developments include an easterly extension to the existing main terminal, additional car parking, new airline offices and support facilities such as a cogeneration power plant and water treatment station.

AoT wants to open the new midfield terminal as soon as possible to avoid the problems associated with congestion and overcrowding.

Prasutanond certainly believes that the new capacity-enhancing facility will take customer service levels and operational efficiency at Suvarnabhumi to new heights.

He says: “Suvarnabhumi was created to be the best airport in Asia, and this goal is all encompassing. We want to offer the best in everything, and have a strong emphasis on passenger services, security and energy efficiency.

“We have an attractive, environmentally friendly airport, but we currently don’t have the capacity to meet future demand. The statistics show that the airport will reach its capacity in the next few years. This effectively means that Suvarnabhumi won’t be able to meet our goals until the new facilities are added.”

Plans for a third runway have been temporarily put on hold while the government awaits the results of a study carried out by Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

Bangkok Suvarnabhumi’s new rapid transit system allows 160-kmph express trains to cover the 28.6-kilometre distance between the gateway and the capital’s Makkasan Station (City Air
Terminal) in just 15 minutes.

It offers two types of service – a non-stop 15-minute Express Line (known informally as the Pink Line) and City Line (the Red Line) both of which operate on an elevated track for most of the journey.

The City Line, which is aimed at commuters, makes eight stops across the capital, starting at downtown Phaya Thai Station, on its way to and from the airport.

Makkasan Station provides passengers with the opportunity to check-in luggage for flights before boarding the train to the airport.

The new City Line service is currently handling an average 40,000 customers (passengers and staff) daily and the Express Line up to 900 passengers.

Prasutanond enthuses: “The new rail link has definitely made getting to Suvarnabhumi faster and more convenient for both passengers and airport staff. The ability to check-in  downtown will also help reduce peak time congestion in the terminal building. We are delighted that it has finally opened.”

You could arguably claim that a yearly upturn in traffic would be the fourth piece of good news for Bangkok Suvarnabhumi in 2010 following AoT’s unveiling of a new, more dynamic logo for the gateway earlier this year.

Prasutanond claims that the creation of the new logo is a measure to support AoT’s vision of being “Asia’s leading airport business” and desire to become one of the world’s top 10 airports in ACI’s Airport Service Quality (ASQ) passenger satisfaction programme.

Majority state-owned AoT operates the country’s six main airports, Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang in Bangkok, Hat Yai, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Phuket, which between them handle around 90% of all air traffic in Thailand.

Prasutanond admits that, for now, AoT has no plans to close downtown Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport. In fact, he reveals that the state-owned airport operator has plans to develop the airport site to generate new revenue streams.

“I cannot give much away, but we have plans to implement aviation related projects at Don Mueang,” he remarks. “A number of potential projects are currently being considered which, if they come to fruition, could be expected to boost our revenues and income for the local community. The projects will also enhance the national airport system as a whole.”

Whatever happens at Don Mueang, Suvarnabhumi will, of course, remain Bangkok’s and indeed Thailand’s premier airport and main gateway to the world.

Not surprisingly, Thai Airways International is the biggest of the 93 scheduled carriers serving Suvarnabhumi in terms of market share. Other big players in Bangkok include Thai AirAsia, Bangkok Airways, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and China Airlines.

Low-cost carriers currently account for around 30% of all passengers handled at Suvarnabhumi, and their growing importance to the airport has even led Prasutanond to claim that they have driven traffic growth in Bangkok for the last five or six years.

“The LCCs have had a positive impact on traffic growth ever since they first arrived in Bangkok back in 2004,” says Prasutanond.

“While the legacy carriers have enjoyed an average of a 5% rise in passenger numbers since 2004, the LCCs have enjoyed a 20% increase. The figures do not lie, the LCCs have positively driven traffic growth.”

The combination of LCCs and legacy carriers ensure that O&D traffic currently account for 70% of all passengers at Suvarnabhumi and transfer traffic for the remaining 30%.

Although happy with the traffic mix, it hasn’t stopped Suvarnabhumi looking to add to its list of airlines or expand its route network.

Indeed AoT, which reduced its landing fees and airport charges for 12 months during the darkest days of the global financial crisis, continues to offer airlines a package of incentives to launch new revenue boosting services.

So what are Prasutanond’s goals for the year ahead? Ever the businessman, he claims that his priorities for 2011 include making AoT more profitable and increasing management
efficiency and service levels.

“We can increase the profitability of the organisation by generating more revenue, improving management efficiency and more efficiently utilising our existing assets,” muses Prasutanond.

With a newly approved master plan and a forward looking corporate strategy based on enhancing operational efficiency and customer service levels, few could accuse Prasutanond and AoT of not having a long-term plan.

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