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Sat, Feb 03, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Head of Bangkok airport quits

PARTING SHOT Chotisak Asapaviriya said he had urged the previous government not to rush into opening the airport, which has been beset with problems since last September

AFP , BANGKOK

The former head of the company that operates Bangkok's troubled new airport quit with a parting shot at authorities yesterday, saying the hub was opened too early last year despite his warnings.

"At that time, I thought Suvarnabhumi was not ready to open," Chotisak Asapaviriya said in a television interview after handing in his resignation to the 14-member board of Airports of Thailand.

Separately, the head of the board raised a new concern, criticizing "loose" security which he said was insufficient to cope with the threat of terrorism.

The board, appointed by Thailand's junta following a September coup that ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, accepted Chotisak's resignation and, in a related move, sacked the airport's manager late on Thursday.

The glitzy US$3 billion Suvarnabhumi, named "Golden Land" in Thai, was one of Thaksin's pet projects and was supposed to be a gleaming symbol of modern Thailand.

But it has been mired by problems since opening last September, including 100 cracks on runways and taxiways, corruption claims, inadequate toilets and complaints about hygiene standards.

Chotisak said he had urged the Thaksin government not to rush into opening the airport and told aviation authorities that they should gradually shift operations to Suvarnabhumi from Bangkok's old Don Muang airport.

"I asked them to partially move operations to the new airport as I suspected the total opening at one time could cause many problems," he said.

Chotisak resigned with his four-year contract set to come up for review in just one week.

He insisted there was no pressure from the head of the AOT board, General Saprang Kalayanamitr, adding that he had decided to step down due to health reasons.

"I resigned because the stress coming from managing Suvarnabhmi would have serious effects on my health in the future," said Chotisak, 53.

His resignation came amid growing difficulties at the airport, which were compounded when Thailand's aviation authority last month declined to renew an international safety certificate for Suvarnabhumi.

The certificate is not required by law for the airport to operate, meaning it can stay open while the problems are sorted out.

An engineering team that surveyed the cracks on the tarmac said they cover some 97,000m2, or 5.3 percent, of the airport's total taxiways.

"Given the fact that the airport has been open for just four months, the cracks already found were considered a serious problem," Thiti Paveenchana, a director of the Engineering Council of Thailand, said yesterday.

"We recommended that authorities immediately close the cracked areas for urgent repairs. The process could take up to three to six months," he said.

Thailand's Cabinet is expected to decide on Tuesday whether to ask airlines to voluntarily make a temporary move of some of their domestic flights to Don Muang to ease traffic at Suvarnabhumi and allow the runway and taxiway cracks to be repaired.

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