Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Don Mueang operations grounded

Bangkok Post

Flight operations at Bangkok's Don Mueang airport were halted from yesterday afternoon until at least next Tuesday as its runways are flooded. However, a shelter and the government's flood relief centre continue to operate there.

No one is spared: Floodwater laps the front of Don Mueang airport on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road where the government is running its flood relief operations centre in Bangkok. Flight operations were halted there yesterday due to the flooded airfield. — NATTHITI AMPRIWAN
Airports of Thailand (AoT) chairman ACM Sumet Phomanee said the airport was closed to flights from 2pm yesterday. Floodwater entered the runways of Don Mueang from the adjacent Wing 6 of the air force based to the east.

AoT did not build a dyke along the eastern boundary of the commercial airport because it relied on the flood prevention system at the air force's facility.

Despite the flooding, AoT said it will not build a dyke along the eastern boundary.

ACM Sumet expects floodwater to enter Don Mueang airport through its northern and western sides as well but he does not think it will be so deep that it will damage the airport or aircraft awaiting maintenance there.

AoT elevated the northern dyke of Don Mueang airport yesterday.

Don Mueang airport director Kanphat Mangkhlasiri said floodwater affected friction on the runway of the airport and it would be closed until 5pm on Tuesday.

He said floodwater entering northern Bangkok had impacted on the power supply and visual air navigation aids of the airport.

ACM Sumet said shelters and the government's Flood Relief Operations Command (Froc) did not have to be relocated from Don Mueang for the time being.

However, the Froc yesterday warned people who parked their vehicles at ground level in the airport to move them.

The suspension of Don Mueang airport operations affect Orient Thai Airlines and Nok Air that are based there.

Orient Thai Airlines chief executive officer Manasnant Tantiprasongchai said the airline had moved all of its flights from Don Mueang airport to Suvarnabhumi. That involves 10 domestic and one international flight per day.

Nok Air chief executive officer Patee Sarasin said the airline suspended its services from noon yesterday until Oct 31.

"It may resume flights on Nov 1," he said. "We do not know how much floodwater will flow in. We cannot estimate it. Flight services are suspended until the end of this month because we wonder if Suvarnabhumi airport will be flooded. We would like to suspend flights to monitor flood situations concerning both airports.

He advised travellers to postpone their flights. Mr Patee said the decision to halt flights was made to protect passengers.

Both Nok Air and Orient Thai have eased their ticket terms which were normally stringent with fees imposed on travel date changes.

Nok Air said all passengers travelling during that period will receive SMS alerts about flight cancellations, and travelling dates will be negotiable for one month.

With Nok Air staff contacting them soon for more information, regarding travel date changes or the refunding of their tickets, passengers do not need to call the airline.

Though the flood-inflicted closure of Don Mueang airport came as a surprise to many passengers who saw it as being situated on high ground and therefore well-protected, aviation executives thought otherwise.

"With the massive amount of water coming from the north, I never thought Don Mueang would be saved by sandbags and barriers," Kajit Habanananda, Orient Thai's chairman, told the Bangkok Post.

Industry executives have expressed great concern that Suvarnabhumi could face a similar fate unless more effective measures are put in place to protect one of Thailand's most economically-important facilities.

Mjets, a private jet service provider, also suspended its service at Don Mueang and moved out its four private aircraft - three jets and one propeller-driven craft - to U-Tapao for safekeeping, chief executive Jaiyavat Navaraj said.

Samat Phum-on, director of the Crisis Management and Operations Centre of Thai Airways International, said the airline was on standby. It has prepared to operate at six back-up airports and two emergency airports in the country and has relocated some facilities for ground operations to U-Tapao airport in Rayong province east of Bangkok.
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