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Mon, Jan 29, 2007

Safety Officials Refuse To Sign Off On New Bangkok Airport

Interim Certificate Expires, Airport Continues To Operate

These are not the best of days for those associated with Bangkok's new Suvarnabhumi International Airport.

Insult to injury came again on Saturday, when aviation authorities refused to extend an interim international safety certificate to the airport, even as runway and tarmac repairs continue. The airport can, however, continue to operate without the license.

The airport has been embroiled in numerous scandals during its five-year construction... and since opening last September, problems surfaced ranging from an inadequate number of toilets, to taxiway cracks extending to the runway. Probes are also being carried out into a number of corrupt deals related to the facility, according to the Associated Press.

On Thursday, several incoming flights were diverted to another airport about 125 miles away after debris was found on a runway.

Cracks at 25 separate locations made it impossible to use 11 out of 51 air bridges for boarding aircraft, a major inconvenience to passengers who now need to take buses to and from their planes, said Transport Minister Thira Hao-Charoen after an inspection visit.

Somchai Sawasdeepon, the airport's general manager, said the airport also has yet to set up a safety committee, as required by the International Civil Aviation Organization, because authorities are "busy resolving other problems."

Sawasdeepon said the issue will be discussed at the next board meeting, noting he was confident the certificate will be renewed after the establishment of the safety committee.

Local newspapers reported that some foreign pilots raised concerns about safety issues at the Suvarnabhumi, but Sawasdeepon said those concerns were not raised at Friday's meeting of airline representatives.

However, one senior Thai captain said told The Nation newspaper, "If I were a foreign pilot, how could I trust that I would be given the right instructions when I had to fly in and out of an airport without international recognition? And I would be particularly concerned if I had to deal with disruptive weather or other emergencies. I don't know who has to bear responsibility in the event a wrong decision is made."

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requires that international airports hold an Aerodrome Certificate, aimed at standardizing global airport operations. Suvarnabhumi continues to operate without the certificate because it has yet to incorporate that requirement into law.

Suvarnabhumi -- which has been bogged down since 1960, according to Thaipro.com, with allegations of corruption and mismanagement --  will be the country's only airport capable of handling the 555-seat Airbus A380. National carrier Thai Airlines has six of the mammoth jets on order.

FMI: www.bangkokairportonline.com; www.icao.int

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