Changes in the air for Thai airports


Will the confirmation of Serirat Prasutanond as President of Airports of Thailand last July herald big chances in the way Airports of Thailand is managed? The new President impresses from the first time. He looks determined, speaks rather good English and seems to know what he is talking about. Characteristics which were not always the cases for some of his predecessors as to become AOT President is a highly sensitive position in a company where politics mix all the time…

But let’s come back to Khun Serirat’s ideas about the future of AOT presented during a seminar celebrating the 30th anniversary of the airports company. The ambition of the new President is to make Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport among the top 10 best in the world. “Safety is standard, quality of service must be at highest”, points out Serirat Prasutanond. He does not in fact shun critics about the way the airport operates. “I welcome them. I am myself conscious that we need to upgrade our standards,” he says.

Matching quality with airports such as Singapore or Hong Kong will require many changes. Just to start with trolleys at Suvarnabhumi: “They do not work properly, they are heavy, wheels are always blocked and they are too high to charge properly luggage. They basically symbolize in a lot of ways Thailand!” complains a Thai Senator. Prasutanond promises that the airport will quickly take a decision for a new supplier. “We are opening the bid this September bid. And after selecting the final bidder, we want to have the first of 1,000 new trolleys being available between the beginning of the peak season and the end of January 2010,” he adds.

AOT seems indeed to take seriously its target to be among the World top 10 airports. Automated Common check-in kiosks and a centralised security are in the process of being installed to avoid congestion in the departure hall. Free wifi will be available throughout the terminal in September. AOT President is also looking to upgrade the airports’ internet website. Finally, the site will be able to offer to passengers up-to-date information on flights. “A webmaster will join our team next month to work on improvements”, adds Prasutanond. Tests are also conducted with mobile phone operator AIS to offer an SMS service with all details on flight schedules, gates and time of departure.

Other measures have seen the police and security forces chasing away illegal taxis and tour guides as well as enforcing obligatory screening for the staff working in the luggage areas following complaints of baggage being visited. Internally, a new marketing structure has been put in place under Prasutanond direct supervision. They will have to look at new ways to attract more airlines…
AOT will also have to cope with increasingly crowded facilities at its main airports. Prasutanond confirms that Government’s approval for a new domestic terminal should be taken by the first quarter of 2010 for a possible start in 2012. “The project will cost US$ 170 million and should be achieved by 2015. It will add capacity for 20 million passengers and will be linked by a monorail to the main terminal,” adds Prasutanond. In parallel, work will start on the third runway construction as well as on the planning for an international satellite. Another major project is a commercial mall within the airport’s compound. The mall will integrate a hotel and conference rooms and will also be opened for surrounding communities. Bidding is due to start soon and Prasutanond promises complete transparency. Asked if King Power duty free shops operator could once more get the concession – the Duty Free company got under the previous AOT administration an extraordinary concession to run all commercial units in complete monopoly-, Prasutanond smiles and tells that they could be part of the bid… By 2020, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi will be able to receive up to 80 million passengers.

Another urgent work is to upgrade Phuket airport by building a second international terminal, raising capacities to 12.5 million passengers a year. “I expect now a quick endorsement from the Cabinet as we build the terminal from our own financial resources. Then it will proceed very quick,” estimates AOT CEO. Changes are really in the air…