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AoT backs rebirth of Don Muang


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Extracted from the Bangkok Post




The board of Airports of Thailand Plc yesterday approved the use of Don Muang for domestic flights with no international connections and set March 15 as the possible date for the relaunch of services at the old airport.


In an attempt to save costs from expanding Suvarnabhumi airport and to fully use its existing infrastructure, the board led by chairman Gen Saprang Kalayanamitr decided to move to Don Muang domestic flights with no connections to international routes operated by Thai Airways International (THAI) and no-frills carriers. Domestic flights with passengers connecting with international routes will remain at Suvarnabhumi.


It targeted March 15 for the resumption of regular services for Don Muang, which was closed on Sept 28, when the country's main airport moved to Suvarnabhumi.


The March 15 date was set to allow sufficient time to prepare for an expected surge in air travel to the provinces during the Songkran holiday.


Sources in the Airports of Thailand (AoT) board said its president Chotisak Asapaviriya told the meeting that the March 15 move was possible. However, he told reporters afterwards that he could not guarantee complete success.


The decision was based on a study by AoT to compare the advantages and disadvantages of expanding Suvarnabhumi against relocating domestic services to Don Muang.


The use of Don Muang to ease air traffic at Suvarnabhumi would give officials more flexibility to fix a number of problems at the new airport, sources said.


Mr Chotisak said the board has directed AoT to work on the details of the use of Don Muang and forward them to the Transport Ministry _ which oversees the airport agency _ within two weeks. After that the ministry, which has already made clear its preference for Don Muang, needs cabinet approval for the plan.


Based on the current volume of passengers, Suvarnabhumi will serve 42 million passengers a year, just three million shy of its full capacity.


Don Muang accommodated almost 39 million passengers a year before it was closed to regular flights. It currently services only chartered and special flights.


Moving domestic flights with no connections to Don Muang will defer plans to expand the new airport, including the need to build a new terminal to service only local flights in the future.


The move will boost revenues at Don Muang, which currently earns only 500,000 baht a month from the chartered and special flights.


Don Muang director Pinit Saraithong said the airport was ready for the return to services because none of the facilities, including ground and safety equipment, had been moved to Suvarnabhumi.


However, he said the airport needed about 45 days to prepare for the return of regular passengers and to hire more security staff. With existing facilities, Don Muang could serve up to 15 million passengers a year for a decade, he added.


Airlines with domestic services _THAI, Nok Air, Thai AirAsia and One-Two-Go _ supported yesterday's decision.


Bangkok Airways could not be reached for comment.


THAI president Apinan Sumanaseni said the national flag carrier needed one month to move some equipment and hire more staff to be stationed at Don Muang but he said it was not a serious problem for the airline.


Mr Apinan said flights serving popular destinations among international passengers such as Phuket, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Hat Yai could remain at Suvarnabhumi.


Nok Air CEO Patee Sarasin praised the decision, which could save AoT at least 1.4 billion baht from constructing a new domestic building at Suvarnabhumi.


One-Two-Go chief executive and founder Udom Tantiprasongchai also hailed the decision, saying it was a ''good decision'' to shift domestic routes to Don Muang.


But Thai AirAsia CEO Tassapon Bijleveld said the move to Don Muang should be on a voluntary basis. He admitted that the move would affect Thai AirAsia, which needed to rotate its fleets between international and domestic flights.

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