THE INTERNATIONAL Air Transport Association (IATA), which groups together more than 400 airlines worldwide, has warned that Suvarnabhumi Airport is a safety risk due to unresolved “soft spots”.
In an interview in Bangkok yesterday following his earlier visit to Singapore’s Airshow and Aviation Leadership Summit, Tony Tyler, director-general and chief executive officer of IATA, said Suvarnabhumi has a major role to play regionally and globally because it handles more than 52 million passengers annually.
However, he said Thailand’s biggest international airport now has significant safety issues.
“The terminal capacity needs urgent expansion. It was designed to handle 45 million passengers annually, but it exceeds that today and traffic is still growing at an annual 10 per cent rate.”
“Overcrowding is a serious issue that will become critical quickly,” Tyler warned. “There are also safety concerns on the airport’s tarmac, taxiways and apron area because of soft spots. Aircraft get stuck in the soft surface due to substandard materials,” he said.
Tyler, who met Transport Minister Arkom Termpitayapaisit on Wednesday, suggested that Thai authorities should quickly resolve the “soft spots” issue permanently by using concrete instead of temporary asphalt patchwork.
“Frankly, that’s not good enough … the runway and gate downtime that results from constantly fixing and re-fixing the soft spots is unacceptable. Literally, nothing less than a concrete solution will do. Extraordinary power that aircraft need to use around soft spots and extra-towing expose ground personnel, equipment and aircraft to safety risks,” he explained.
The IATA chief also said that Thailand needs to quickly start construction work on the second phase of Suvarnabhumi’s expansion, which has been delayed for years as the government has focused on reviving the Don Mueang airport and expanding the U-Tapao facility.
Regarding the runway at Suvarnabhumi, Tyler said immediate increase in capacity can be achieved by addressing the soft spots but the airport would eventually need a third runway.
In addition, the country needs a long-term master plan for airports, after consultations with all stakeholders.
Tyler said Suvarnabhumi should be improved first, as it is Thailand’s major gateway.
Citing inefficiency and connectivity issues, he also expressed concern about plans to disperse air traffic among Don Mueang and U-Tapao airports.
Meanwhile, Tyler also urged the government to make all Thai-registered airlines to undergo the IATA’s Operational Safety Audit (IOSA). At present, only Thai Airways International, Bangkok Airways, Thai Lion and Orient Thai go through such an audit.
According to Tyler, mandating IOSA for all Thai carriers would send a strong message to the international community that the country is serious about its commitment to international safety standards.
Thai aviation authorities have been busy upgrading the country’s regulatory capacity for airlines following last year’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)’s red flag.
Later, the US Federal Aviation Administration also downgraded Thailand’s status to Category 2 in its international aviation safety assessment, putting more pressure on the country to overhaul its regulatory system for airlines following decades of rapid growth in the aviation and tourism sectors.