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Thu, Aug 23, 2001 - Page 19 News List

Southeast Asian airports look to uncertain skies

DPA , BANGKOK

The tendency to skip smaller Asian aviation hubs is expected to increase as the new long-haul airborne leviathan, Airbus 380, capable of carrying 550 passengers, lumbers into the skies in 2006 and Boeing's Sonic Cruiser jets, flying at 95 percent the speed of sound, become available in 2007.

Boeing Company chairman Philip Condit, on a recent trip to Singapore, warned that the new sonic jets could result in passengers bypassing traditional hubs such as Singapore and Bangkok.

Such scary scenarios are already forcing regional airports to stay competitive by price cutting.

Singapore Changi Airport, for instance, has this year managed to attract cargo business away from neighboring Malaysia by undercutting KLIA's freight rates, said Walter Culas, chairman of the Airfreight Forwarders Association of Malaysia.

"Now cargo is being sent by road to Singapore to be flown out because the rates in Singapore are much cheaper," said Culas.

Air cargo from KLIA has dropped about 40 percent this year, compared with 2000, due to the global economic slowdown.

While cargo traffic is down regionwide, what is saving Southeast Asian airports this year is tourism. Tourist arrivals in Malaysia during the first half of this year reached US$7.23 million, an increase of 44 percent compared with the same period last year.

A robust tourism industry meant arrivals at Bangkok airport during the "Asian crisis" years of 1997 to 2000 grew an average of 6 percent, compared with 1 to 4 percent declines witnessed at other Southeast Asian airports.

Despite its prime status as a tourism hub, Thailand continues to drag its feet on setting up a new international airport for Bangkok.

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