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Suvarnabhumi Airport ( , ) , also known as (New) Bangkok International Airport, is the international airport serving Southeast Asia, and Bangkokmarker, Thailandmarker. It was officially opened for limited domestic flight service on 15 September 2006, and opened for most domestic and all international commercial flights on 28 September.

The airport is currently the main hub for Thai Airways International, Bangkok Airways, Orient Thai Airlines, PBair and Thai AirAsia.

The airport is located in Racha Thewa in Bang Phlimarker district, Samut Prakan Provincemarker, about 25 km east of downtown Bangkok. The name Suvarnabhumi was chosen by King Bhumibol Adulyadej and refers to the golden kingdom hypothesised to have been located somewhere in Southeast Asia.

Designed by Helmut Jahn of Murphy/Jahn Architects, this airport has the world's tallest control tower (132.2 m), and the world's third largest single-building airport terminal (563,000 m²). Suvarnabhumi is one of the busiest airports in Asia and is also a major air cargo hub. The airport inherited the airport code BKK from Don Mueangmarker after the older airport ceased international flights. A modern motorway connects the airport, Bangkok, and the heavily industrial Eastern Seaboard of Thailand, where most of the manufacturing for export takes place.

History

Terminal interior
Border between the concourse and the terminal seen from the arrival area
Terminal
Inner courtyard as seen from the luggage claim room
Inner courtyard and terminal structure by night
Departure hall
The churn of the milk ocean sculpture inside the departure hall

Land purchase, early construction

Planning of a second international airport for Bangkok started in the early 1960s. The process was slow from the start: as early as 1968, critics were already charging that the project was "five to seven years" behind the main schedule.

The 8,000 acre (32 km²) plot of land occupied by the airport was purchased in 1973, but the student uprising on 14 October of the same year was followed by the overthrow of the military government of Thanom Kittikachorn and the project was shelved. After a series of ups and downs, the "New Bangkok International Airport" company (NBIA) was formed in 1996. Due to political and economic instabilities, notably the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the civil construction began six years later in January 2002 by the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. The airport is located in a once low-lying marsh, formerly known as Nong Ngu Hao ( , lit. "Cobra Swamp"), which took 5 years (1997 - 2001) to clear make a land reclamation. In 2005, the construction supervision and management was transferred to the Airports of Thailand PLC, while the NBIA company was dissolved.

Financing

50% of the airport's construction cost was covered by Airports of Thailand, while the another 50% was from a friendly agreement of AOT and JBIC, Japan Bank for International Cooperation. Airport-related procurement followed JBIC's stringent guidelines for transparency and openness. Despite populism regarding the airport as being built for passengers, Thai and foreigner exporting companies in the area for a long time wanted a round the clock airport built along with a modern motorway between factories, Bangkok, and the port of Laem Chabangmarker.

Early construction, airport tests, and official opening

The airport was due to open in late 2005, but a series of budget overruns, construction flaws, and allegations of corruption plagued the project.

A further problem was the belief that the airport was haunted by spirits, and sightings of ghosts by superstitious construction workers, so that on 23 September 2005, the Thai airports authority held a ceremony with 99 Buddhist monks chanting prayers to calm these spirits.

Symbolic first test flights involving two Thai Airways aircraft were held on 29 September 2005, a previously announced deadline for opening.

Full tests of the airport, with seats sold to the public, took place on 3 July and 29 July, 2006. Six airlines – Thai Airways International, Nok Air, Thai Air Asia, Bangkok Airways, PBair and One-Two-GO – used the airport as a base for 20 domestic flights. The first international test flights were conducted on 1 September 2006. Two THAI's aircraft, B747-400 and A300-600, simultaneously departed the airport on 9.19am to Singaporemarker and Hong Kongmarker. At 3.50pm the same aircraft flew back and made simultaneous touchdowns on runways 19L and 19R. These test flights demonstrated the readiness of the airport to handle heavy traffic.

On 15 September 2006, the airport started limited daily operations with Jetstar Asia Airways operating three flights daily to Singaporemarker and Thai Airways International operating some domestic flights to Phitsanulokmarker, Chiang Maimarker and Ubon Ratchathanimarker. Bangkok Airways moved on 21 September, AirAsia and Thai AirAsia followed suit on 25 September and on 26 September Nok Air moved to Suvarnabhumi Airport. During this initial phase, as well as in the previous tests, the airport used the temporary IATA code NBK.

Suvarnabhumi officially opened at 3:00am on 28 September 2006, taking over all flights from Don Mueang. The first flight to arrive was Lufthansa Cargo flight LH8442 from Mumbaimarker at 3:05am. The first commercial arrival was from Japan Airlines at 3:30am. The first passenger arrival was Aerosvit flight VV171 from Kievmarker at 4:30am, and the first cargo departure was Saudi Arabian Airlines flight SV-984 to Riyadhmarker at 5:00am. Aerosvit also had the first passenger departure (VV172 to Kiev) around 5:30am.

Initial difficulties

Many difficulties were recorded in the first few days of the airport's operation. On the first day alone, sluggish luggage claims were common - the very first passenger arrival by Aerosvit took an hour for the luggage to start coming out, and some flights did not have their luggage coming out even after four hours. Also flights were delayed (Thai Airways claimed that 17 of 19 flights were delayed that day), and there were also failures with the check-in system. Subsequent problems included the failure of the cargo computer system, and the departure boards displaying the wrong information, resulting in confused passengers (especially as unlike Don Muang, there were no "final calls" issued).

Months into its opening, issues such as congestion, construction quality, signage, provision of facilities, and soil subsidence continued to plague the project, prompting calls to reopen Don Mueang to allow for repairs to be done. Expert opinions varied widely regarding the extent of Suvarnabhumi's problems as well as their root cause; most airlines stated that damage to the airport was minimal. Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont decided on 16 February 2007 to reopen Don Mueang for domestic flights on a voluntary basis, with 71 weekly flights moved back initially, with no international flights allowed.

Capacity and safety issues

Problems with the tarmac

The Engineering Institute of Thailand conducted investigations at the airport in late 2006 after signs of distress were spotted at several locations in Suvarnabhumi's taxiways and taxilanes. Rutting was found in five of the six taxilanes and one of the six taxiways. Plastic deformation of the asphalt wearing course was observed near the takeoff position of the runway. However, the investigators noted that plastic deformation at this location was a common phenomenon and only routine maintenance was required to repair the distress. Aside from this surface distortion, both runways were in good structural condition.

Further investigations found that that taxilane and taxiway rutting was caused by separation of the asphalt binder from the aggregate surface due to prolonged water infiltration into the asphalt concrete base course, a phenomenon known as "stripping." The 23-centimetre-thick base course is the top-most layer of the tarmac. Core samples indicated that the concrete base course material contained the correct job mix and aggregate gradation. Below the base course are the binder course, the wearing course, and the cement-treated base.

Detailed investigations found that water seepage was evident along the rims of the expansion joints in the cement-tested base, indicating that a large quantity of water was still trapped in the sand blanket (the bottom-most layer of the tarmac). It was found that water trapped in the sand blanket was fully confined with no connection to the pavement areas of the airport. A later investigation by the AoT identified several potential reasons for the trapped water in the sand blanket. The AoT's findings were disputed by several experts.

The Engineering Institute of Thailand sent a formal warning to the AoT in November 2006 about the urgent need to drain water from beneath the tarmac, and the need for immediate action. "The AOT did nothing about the problem," Suebsak Promboon of the EIT later noted. "The situation might not have become this bad if the water had been drained then."

In January 2007, ruts were discovered in the runways at Suvarnabhumi. The east runway was scheduled to close for repairs. Expert opinions have varied widely as to the root cause of the ruts. Airport authorities and airline representatives maintained that the airport was still safe and resisted suggestions that the airport should be completely closed and all flights moved back to Don Muang.

On 27 January 2007, however, the Department of Civil Aviation declined to renew the airport's safety certificate, which expired the previous day. The ICAOmarker requires that international airports hold aerodrome safety certificates, but Suvarnabhumi will continue to operate because the ICAO requirement has yet to be adopted as part of Thai law.

A junta-appointed panel of engineers assigned to inspect the airport noted that damage to the airport was "minute," and "common." According to a panel member, the problem with the runways and taxiways are ruts, not cracks in the asphalt as had previously been claimed. "This is a common type of damage. You see it in airports all over the United States," said Noppodol Phien-Wej, a panel-member. A spokesman for British Airways, also said that "everything is normal," and that "we haven't heard any complaints from the staff."

A two-week investigation led by Tortrakul Yomnak, a chief engineer for Airports of Thailand and a leader of the anti-Thaksin movement, later found that the runway was safe, and that cracks could be repaired in as little as a few hours. At the beginning of the investigation, Tortrakul had warned that the airport might need to be closed for three years.

In a public statement on 15 February 2007, the EIT again strongly recommended that trapped water should be drained out immediately to minimise the potential spread of cracks. Karun Chandrarangsu, president of the Engineering Institute of Thailand noted, "Suvarnabhumi is like a patient in a coma who continues to suffer from severe bleeding. Stopping the blood flow now is more urgent and important than debating what caused the injury."

The military junta used allegedly shoddy construction at the airport as one of the justifications for its overthrow of the Thaksin government, and it later purged the top management of AoT. Critics noted that junta-led investigations were unlikely to reveal an impartial picture of the airport's shortcomings. "Problems are normal for any new airport. In our case it's made more complex because everybody wants to run down the former prime minister," noted Sumet Jumsai, a leading Thai architect.

Capacity

The airport has 2 parallel runways (60 m. wide, 4,000 m. and 3700 m. long) and 2 parallel taxiways to accommodate simultaneous departures and arrivals. It has a total of 120 parking bays (51 with contact gates and 69 remote gates) and 5 of these are capable of accommodating the Airbus A380 aircraft. With a capacity of handling 76 flight operations per hour, both international and domestic flights will share the airport terminal but will be assigned to different parts of the concourse. In the initial phase of construction, it will be capable of handling 45 million passengers and 3 million tonnes of cargo per year. Between the airport hotel and the terminal building are the two 5-storey car park buildings with a combined capacity of 5,000 cars.

Plans to re-open Don Muang for domestic

In January 2007, Thai Airways announced a plan to move some of its domestic operations back to Don Muang International Airportmarker due to overcrowding.Three days later, the Ministry of Transport recommended temporarily reopening Don Muang while repair work on the runways at Suvarnabhumi proceeds. The recommendation is still subject to approval by the junta's Cabinet. Thai Airways said it would shift most of its domestic flights back, keeping flights with high international passenger connections such as Chiang Maimarker and Phuket at Suvarnabhumi. Bangkok Airways and One-Two-GO have similar plans. Thai AirAsia said it would not move unless it could shift both its international and domestic operations. Nok Air and PBair were undecided.

Repair and upgrades

Airports of Thailand found that the cost of fixing 60 identified problems at the airport would be less than 1% of the total airline cost and the problems could be fixed in up to four to five years. Dr. Narupol Chaiyut, a member of a committee overseeing service problems at the new airport, estimated that 70% of the problems would be fixed within 2007. 20 of the 60 problems were successfully fixed by February 2007.

Accidents and incidents

Suvarnabhumi Airport has no records of any accidents or incidents at all.

Events

On 25 January 2007, due to work to the upgrading the taxiways, which was suffered by a small crack, few incoming flights were delayed and several flights were safety diverted to a nearby operating U-Tapao International Airportmarker in Rayong province.

On 26 November 2008, the airport was suffered from an illegal occupying of the protestors who claims themselves as People's Alliance for Democracy, closing the departure lounge and blocking exits, causing almost three thousand passengers stranded within the main terminal, another 350,000 were stranded inside the country, as all flights were grounded for a short while.On 2 December 2008, protesters agreed to leave the airport as they had been illegally protesting and permitted the resumption of flights. Security checks, clean-ups and recertification once the illegal occupation ended delayed the airport from being fully functional until 5 December 2008.

Warnings

In 2009, Irelandmarker warned its citizens to be on guard while browsing in the airport's shops. "We have received reports that innocent shoppers have been the subject of allegations of suspected theft and threatened that their cases will not be heard for several months unless they plead guilty and pay substantial fines," the Irish government wrote in a travel advisory, which also advised shoppers to retain all receipts to "avoid great distress."

Great Britainmarker and Denmarkmarker also posted online advisories about hard-to-detect demarcation lines between shops in Suvarnabhumi's sprawling duty-free zone and warned shoppers to be alert about carrying unpaid merchandise across the lines.

Irregularities

Several thugs and cheats, the majority of them illegal taxi drivers and tour guides, are to be found preying upon tourists within the arrival hall. These scammers belong to major, politically-well connected criminal groups: Kamnan Samruay, Boonruang Srisang, Sak Pakphanang, the Pattaya Mafia and Phuyai Daeng. Measures to evict them have proven ineffectual due to their being well connected with top AoT executives (it is alleged that the head of the Pirap gang is personally related to an AoT executive, while the Phuyai Daeng enjoys good connections with influential civil servants in Samut Prakan).

Specifications

Airport layout
Phase two of the airport
Costing an estimated ฿155 billion (US$3.8 billion), the airport has 2 parallel runways (60 m wide, 4000 m and 3700 m long) and two parallel taxiways to accommodate simultaneous departures and arrivals. It has a total of 120 parking bays (51 with contact gates and 69 remote gates), with five of these capable of accommodating the Airbus A380. The main passenger terminal building, with a capacity of handling 76 flight operations per hour, co-locates the international and domestic terminals, though assigning them to different parts of the concourse. In the initial phase of construction, it will be capable of handling 45 million passengers and 3 million tonnes of cargo per year. Above the future underground rail link station and in front of the passenger terminal building is a 600-room hotel operated by Accor Group under the Novotel brand. Between the airport hotel and the terminal building are the two 5-storey car parks with a combined capacity of 5,000 cars.

Long-term plans include four runways flanking two main terminals, two satellite buildings and a low-cost terminal will have a combined capacity capable of handling more than 135 million passengers and 6.4 million tonnes of cargo a year were settled clearly on the drawing board. The second phase of airport expansion which involving the construction of a satellite building south of the main terminal is expected to begin construction in 3 to 5 years.

Airports of Thailand PLC (AOT), the owner and operator of Suvarnabhumi Airport, announced on 21 July 2006 that a separate terminal for Low-cost carriers will be built at the airport at a cost of 600 million baht (15.8 million dollars). The budget terminal will be located near Concourse A of the main terminal. It is capable of handling more than 20 million passengers per year. Its operating concept will be modeled after the LCC terminals of Kuala Lumpur International Airportmarker and Singapore Changi Airportmarker. However, Don Mueang has also been reopened and is being used by some low-cost domestic airlines, there are concerns whether the LCC terminal at Suvarnabhumi will be needed due to this and overcrowding concerns.

The airport's passenger terminal is the world's largest passenger terminal ever constructed in one phase at 563,000 m², and is also currently the fourth biggest passenger terminal building in the world, after the unexpected enlarging of Hong Kong International Airportmarker (570,000 m²), Beijing Capital International Airportmarker (986,000 m²) with the largest passenger terminal being at Dubai International Airportmarker (Terminal 3 is over 1,500,000 m²). The airport's air-traffic control tower is still remaining as the tallest in the world's history at 132.2 m above the sea level.

Airlines and destinations

Suvarnabhumi Airport has 51 air bridges. Additionally, flights are also able to park at remote locations on the ramp, from where airport buses transport passengers to and from the terminal.

Cities with a direct international airlink to Suvarnabhumi Airport


Scheduled Services

Charter Services

Cargo Services

Ground transportation

Taxis stand is located outside the arrival hall on the same level


Suvarnabhumi Airport Express (under construction)

The construction of the City Airport Terminal in Makkasan and a 28.6 km rapid transit link to the new airport started in July 2005 and are planned for completion in 5 December 2009, after multiple delays. The airport express, informally known as the Pink Line and operated jointly with SRT's planned Red Line commuter service, will connect with the BTS Sukhumvit Line and MRT Blue Line at Phaya Thai and Phetchaburi stations respectively, offering airport-bound passengers a fast 15-minute limited stop journey from the city.

The standard gauge line, forming the eastern section of the Light Red line, will be 28.6 km long and is elevated for most its length, running above existing railway right-of-way, with a short at-grade connection to the airport. Both non-stop Suvarnabhumi Airport Express services and "stopping" Suvarnabhumi Airport City Line commuter services will be operated, with express journeys taking 15 minutes and commuter trips 27 minutes.

Regional Train

Meanwhile, SRT provides a suburban commuter train service between Hua Takhe (the nearest station to Suvarnabhumi on the East line) and the northern suburban city of Rangsit via downtown Bangkok and the old Don Mueang Airport. The train also connects with BTS and MRT at Phaya Thai and Phetchaburi stations respectively. Passengers pay a flat fare of Bt30. A shuttle bus service linking the airport with Hua Takhe railway station is provided by BMTA for Bt15. The train service is currently not as popular as the bus service because the fact that it requires a shuttle bus connection. The service will be stopped when the Airport Express Link is completed.

City Bus

The airport operates 4 airport express bus routes to downtown Bangkok. The buses are air-conditioned with ample luggage space. The fare is 150 baht for the entire route. Passengers can get on the bus on the first floor of the terminal. The four routes are as follows:

Service Destination Notes
Airport Express bus
AE1 Suvarnabhumi Silom Road by expressway
AE2 Suvarnabhumi Khao San Rd.marker by expressway
AE3 Suvarnabhumi CentralWorldmarker via Sukhumvit Rd.marker
AE4 Suvarnabhumi Hua Lamphongmarker (Bangkok Central Railway Station) via Victory Monument(by expressway)


Additionally, 12 air-conditioned city bus routes operated by Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) serve the airport's dedicated bus terminal. City buses offer a cheaper alternative of Bt35 flat fare, compared with the airport express bus. However, passengers must take a shuttle bus to the public transportation center's bus terminal before they can board the regular city buses. The 12 routes available are as follows:

Service Destination Notes
City Bus
549 Suvarnabhumi Minburi-Bangkapi via Seri Thai Rd.
550 Suvarnabhumi Latphrao MRT Station Ratchada-Latphrao Intersection
551 Suvarnabhumi Victory Monument via Rama IX Rd.
552 Suvarnabhumi Hua Lumphong (Bangkok Central Railway Station) via Onnut BTS station
552A Suvarnabhumi Samut Prakarn (Praeksa BMTA Depot)
553 Suvarnabhumi Samut Prakarn (Crocodile Farm BMTA Depot)
554 Suvarnabhumi Rangsit via Don Mueang and Ram Indra Rd. by expressway
555 Suvarnabhumi Rangsit via Don Mueang and Central Plaza LadPhrao by expressway
556 Suvarnabhumi Southern Bus Terminal via Ratchadamnoen Klang Rd. and Democracy Monument by expressway
557 Suvarnabhumi Wong Wian Yai (The Great Circle) Out of Service
558 Suvarnabhumi Thonburi Housing Community - Central Plaza Rama II
559 Suvarnabhumi Future Park Rangsit via Dream World by expressway


Service Destination Notes
Long-distance services
Transport Company Bus Pattayamarker
Transport Company Bus Nong Khaimarker


Counter of the AOT Limousine Service


Car

The airport has 5 main access routes. Among these the most convenient route is via the Bangkok Chon Buri Motorway (Highway No. 7). Another main airport entrance is in Samut Prakan province via the expressway from Bang Na to Bang Pakong.

The airport has provided 5 convenient entrance routes. The main route is via the motorway in the north of Bangkok, directly connecting Bangkokmarker's downtown and Chon Buri province, the industrial and harbor city in eastern Thailand. However, another main airport entrance is located in Samut Prakan province, connecting an elevated highway in the south of Bangkokmarker which lies from Bang Na to Bang Pakong.

Limousines

Additionally, flat-fare limousines are available at the Arrivals Level (2nd floor). Limousine services are provided by AOT and by a number of other licensed Limousine companies[44652].

Public Taxi

Metered taxis are available on the level of the arrival hall.

Departure tax

Since 1 February 2007 the 700 Baht departure tax is included in the price of flight tickets. Before that date, departing passengers had to pay the tax to officials or vending machines before they entered the immigration queues. The departure tax at Don Muang International Airport was 500 THB per person.

See also



References

  1. USA Today, "Bangkok's new airport opens to first commercial flights", 15 September 2006.
  2. "New airport to be ready on time" [1], Bangkok Post, November 5, 1968.
  3. Handley, Paul M. (2006). The King Never Smiles. Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-10682-3.
  4. Richard Lloyd Parry, "Poo Ming – a blue ghost who haunts $4bn airport", The Times, 2006-09-27
  5. ThaiDay, "THAI discounts tickets for historic test flights", July 1, 2006.
  6. "PM Thaksin says Suvarnabhumi Airport ready in two months", MCOT, 29 July 2006.
  7. Pennapa Hongthong, Just listen to our noisy nightmare, The Nation, September 28 2006
  8. Petchanet Pratruangkrai, Suchat Sritama, Exporters pan new export fees, The Nation, 27 September 2006
  9. Kurt Hofmann, LH Cargo set to be first into Suvarnabhumi, ATW, 28 September 2006
  10. Suchat Sritma, Touch down...into chaos, 29 September 2006
  11. e-Travel Blackboard, Baggage ruffles up some feathers, but Suvarnabhumi still a success, 29 September 2006
  12. The Nation, Airport shippers hit by computer failure, 2 October 2006
  13. Some flight services will likely return the Don Muang Airport, The Nation, January 29, 2007.
  14. The Nation, Engineers unable to agree on root cause of airport cracks, 10 February 2007
  15. The Nation, THAI baulks at moving to Don Muang, 15 February 2007
  16. Thailand backtracks on plan for second international airport, Channel NewsAsia, 16 February 2007
  17. A Rough Takeoff for Bangkok's New Airport, TIME, 25 January 2007
  18. New airport's east runway to close for repairs, return to Don Muang mooted, Thai News Agency, MCOT, January 27, 2007.
  19. "Bangkok airport officially unsafe", CNN, 2007-01-27
  20. Bangkok Post, Suvarnabhumi: No cracks, minor damage, 2 February 2007
  21. Bangkok Post, Suvarnabhumi runway declared safe, 12 February 2007
  22. The Nation, Competent pilot wanted, 15 February 2007
  23. The Nation, 'Can we get to work please?', 17 February 2007
  24. Bangkok Post, Distress in the tarmac, 11 March 2007
  25. International Herald Tribune, Thailand's airport imbroglio grows, 2 February 2007
  26. Bangkok Recorder, Airport president resigns, 3 February 2007
  27. ETNA, Thailand's new international airport head steps down, 2 February 2007
  28. Asian Times Online, Cracks appear in Thai aviation-hub hopes, 7 February 2007
  29. Use Don Muang during repairs: 2 airlines, The Nation, January 27, 2007.
  30. Move to use 2 airports gets mixed reception, The Nation, 31 January 2007.
  31. Bangkok Post, B1bn needed to fix terminal problems over four to five years, 16 February 2007
  32. Some airlines afraid to use new airport, The Nation, 26 January 2007.
  33. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7749399.stm Thai protesters shut down airport
  34. http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/world/12/02/08/thai-protesters-agree-clear-airport-protest-leader Thai protesters agree to vacate the airport
  35. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32329225 MSNBC: Alleged scam targets tourists in Bangkok August 7, 2009
  36. http://bangkokpost.net/news/local/23331/crackdown-fails-to-stop-airport-gangs Bangkok Post: Crackdown fails to stop airport gangs September 6, 2009
  37. Ibid.
  38. Bangkok Post, New Bangkok Airport - Now Aiming For July 2006 Opening, 2005
  39. http://enews.mcot.net/view.php?id=12033 AoT to spend Bt800 billion to upgrade Suvarnabhumi Airport
  40. " Work starts on link to Bangkok's new airport". David Briginshaw, International Railway Journal, April 2005.


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