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Another embarrassing story for Bangkok International Airport

Luc Citrinot, eTN  Oct 07, 2010

BANGKOK (eTN) - Since Mr. Serirat Prasutanond took over the presidency of the Airports Authority of Thailand (AOT), he has worked hard to change the image of Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport. Thailand's latest glitzy air facility has been plagued by various scandals following its opening in 2006, from sinking runways to the lack of transparency in attributing shop concessions to a single operator. Then came the occupation of the airport in December 2008 by the Yellow Shirts, which managed to paralyze all air movements for 10 days.

Many has already been achieved with a notable improvement in service for passengers: signage has been reviewed, waiting times at security lanes shortened, additional toilets installed, and brand new luggage trolleys introduced. The airport express link opened last August, and its latest goal is to get the final approval from Thailand's government to start the extension of the airport. A new Midfield satellite linked to the main building by an automated people's mover should be finished by 2016. The structure will then raise total capacity from 45 to 60 million passengers a year.

Bangkok International Airport aims to become one of the world's top 10 best airports. However, a new scandal which happened last week is again putting AOT into bad light. Gangs were fighting to collect money at parking concessions in front of the terminal building last Friday. In 2 hours, masked and armed people seized parking lots to collect parking fees for themselves. "They are mafia gangs operating at the airport," confessed an AOT executive, asked about the issue. But over mafia operating at the airport in various fields of activity ("official" and "unofficial" taxis, car space lots, etc.), the incident again seriously poses the question of safety at the airport. Introducing weapons in the airport perimeter seemed to have been easy. The same AOT executive admits that it was most probably possible due to those gangs operating within the airport. It demonstrates again that despite all the promise to improve safety - especially after the Yellow Shirts seized the airport - much remains to be done.

The Ministry of Transport announced on Wednesday to have launched an inquiry on the incident and summed up AOT executives to explain what happened. Rumors started to circulate last month about the possible change of president at AOT. Mr. Prasutanond's eventual resignation would, however, not change anything as long as AOT will continue to operate as it does today. There are too many vested interests in the ways AOT runs airports in the country. And as the government has always refused to really privatize Thai airports by allowing even foreign companies to step into AOT capital, it might still be hard for Thailand's airports company to come up with a clean image.

Another embarrassing story for Bangkok International Airport
Behind happy faces on this propaganda poster, it is not all smiles at AOT / Photo: L. Citrinot

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