Suvarnabhumi Airport (Thai: ท่าอากาศยานสุวรรณภูมิ, pronounced [sùwannápʰūːm]) (IATA: BKK, ICAO: VTBS) (meaning 'Golden Land'), also known as (New) Bangkok International Airport, is an international airport serving Bangkok, Thailand. 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, Thai AirAsia and will be a hub for the new Thai Tiger Airways.
The airport is located in Racha Thewa in Bang Phli district, Samut Prakan Province, about 25 kilometres (16 mi) 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, the airport has the world's tallest control tower (132.2 metres / 434 feet), and the world's third largest single-building airport terminal (563,000 square metres / 6,060,000 square feet). Suvarnabhumi is the 5th busiest airport in Asia, having handled 40.5 million passengers in 2009, and is also a major air cargo hub. The airport inherited the airport code BKK from Don Mueang after the older airport ceased international commercial 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.
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 (Thai: หนองงูเห่า, 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.
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 Chabang.
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 09:19 to Singapore and Hong Kong. At 15:50 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 Singapore and Thai Airways International operating some domestic flights to Phitsanulok, Chiang Mai and Ubon Ratchathani. 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 03:00 on 28 September 2006, taking over all flights from Don Mueang. The first flight to arrive was Lufthansa Cargo flight LH8442 from Mumbai at 03:05. The first commercial arrival was from Japan Airlines at 03:30. The first passenger arrival was Aerosvit flight VV171 from Kiev at 04:30, and the first cargo departure was Saudi Arabian Airlines flight SV-984 to Riyadh at 05:00. Aerosvit also had the first passenger departure (VV172 to Kiev) around 05:30.
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 (9.1 in) 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 ICAO 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.
The airport has two parallel runways (60 m. wide, 4,000 m. and 3,700 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) 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 Airport due to overcrowding. Three days later, the Ministry of Transport recommended temporarily reopening Don Muang while repair work on the runways at Suvarnabhumi proceeds. At that time, Thai Airways said it would shift most of its domestic flights back, keeping flights with high international passenger connections such as Chiang Mai and Phuket at Suvarnabhumi. On 28 March 2009, Thai Airways discontinued all domestic flights from Don Muang. Bangkok Airways and One-Two-GO had similar plans, but Bangkok Airways remained at Suvarnabhumi. Thai AirAsia said it would not move unless it could shift both its international and domestic operations, and they remain at Suvarnabhumi for this reason. Nok Air and PBair were undecided, but Nok Air later relocated all their flights to Don Muang, where they operate today. As of January 2010, only Nok Air and One-Two-Go operate domestic flights from Don Muang Airport. PBair have ceased operations altogether.
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.
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 Airport 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.
In 2009, Ireland 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."
Britain and Denmark 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.
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).
On October 1, 2010, two hundred armed men occupied the airport's parking lot for an hour, blocking the building's entrances and seizing ticket booths in order to collect fares from motorists. Airport security personnel failed to respond to the incident, which is reported to have resulted from an internal dispute within Parking Management Co., a firm contracted by the airport to run its parking facilities.
Costing an estimated ฿155 billion (US$3.8 billion), the airport has two parallel runways (60 m wide, 4,000 m and 3,700 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 150 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 (LCC) will be built at the airport at a cost of 600 million baht (15.8 million US 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 Airport and Singapore Changi Airport. 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 square metres (6,060,000 sq ft), and is also currently the fourth biggest passenger terminal building in the world, after the unexpected enlarging of Hong Kong International Airport (570,000 square metres / 6,100,000 square feet), Beijing Capital International Airport (986,000 square metres / 10,610,000 square feet), with the largest passenger terminal being at Dubai International Airport (Terminal 3 is over 1,500,000 square metres / 1.61E+7 square feet). The airport's air-traffic control tower is still remaining as the tallest in the world's history at 132.2 metres (434 ft).
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.
Airport Rail Link
The 30-billion baht Suvarnabhumi Airport Link was opened on 23 August 2010, after multiple delays. The Airport Rail Link (ARL) is operated by SRTET, a subsidiary company of the State Railway of Thailand. The standard gauge line is 28.6 kilometers long and is elevated for most its length, running mostly above existing regional railway lines and parallel to the No. 7 Motorway and Si Rat Expressway. There is a short at-grade/underground segment as the line approaches the passenger terminal building of Suvarnabhumi Airport. The ARL has two interchange stations, namely Phaya Thai (changing for BTS Green Line services) and Makkasan (linking Phetchaburi station of the MRT Blue Line). Two train services are operated: the non-stop Express Line trains run between Suvarnabhumi and Makkasan (at a maximum speed of 160 km/hour); the commuter City Line trains that run between Suvarnabhumi and Phaya Thai, calling at all stations. At the end of 2010, Makkasan station will also serve as the City Airport Terminal with parking and baggage check-in facilities offered to passengers using the Express Line. In the future, the ARL will complement the SRT Red Line commuter service, which comprises of two meter gauge, dual-track lines (Hua Lamphong-Bang Sue-Don Mueang-Rangsit and Taling Chan-Bang Sue-Phaya Thai-Hua Mak). The ARL may also be extended from Phaya Thai to Don Mueang via Bang Sue, if the old Don Mueang International Airport is reopened for civil aviation under a dual-aiprort policy.
The Airport Rail Link operates daily from 6 a.m. to 12 midnight. Promotional fare has been introduced and are expected to last at least until the end of 2010. At present, a single-trip journey costs 15 Baht and 100 Baht on the City Line and Express Line service, respectively. Journeys on an Express Line train (non-stop to Makksan) and the City Line train (six stops to Phaya Thai) takes 15 and 27 minutes, respectively. Suvarnabhumi station is located right under the main terminal building (B1 Level, two floors below the Arrival Hall). Baggage check-in facilities at Makkasan station is not expected to operate until the end of 2010. As the connection walkway linking Makkasan and Phetchaburi MRT station is currently under construction, passengers are advised to take a City Line train to Phaya Thai and change for BTS Skytrain or taxi services from there.
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 it requires a shuttle bus connection. The service will be stopped when the Airport Express Link is completed.
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:
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:
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 Bangkok'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 Bangkok which lies from Bang Na to Bang Pakong.
Additionally, flat-fare limousines are available at the Arrivals Level (2 floor). Limousine services are provided by AOT and by a number of other licensed Limousine companies .
Metered taxis are available on the ground level of the airport, one level down from the arrivals hall.
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 Baht per person.
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