Suvarnabhumi in spotlight for congestion, limited capacity

Suvarnabhumi airport (Bangkok Post file photo)

Cancun: When it comes to airports, Bangkok continues to be cited in global forums as one of the most congested and capacity-deficient cities in the world.

Alexandre de Juniac, director-general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), on Monday put a spotlight on Suvarnabhumi, among others, for facing bottlenecks.

But he pointed to Europe as the extreme example regarding capacity-related issues during his speech at IATA’s World Airport Summit in Cancun, attended by over 1,000 industry leaders from across the world.

The European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, commonly known as Eurocontrol, predicts that the continent’s airports will only be able to accommodate 88% of expected demand in 2035, said Mr de Juniac.

Without changes, the cost from infrastructure deficiencies to Europe’s prosperity will reach €245 billion (9.4 trillion baht) in the same year, he said.

“Our [global] infrastructure can barely cope with demand today and development plans are not ambitious enough to accommodate the 7.2 billion passengers we expect in 20 years’ time. I am not just picking on Europe,” said Mr de Juniac. “There are airport bottlenecks from Bangkok and Sydney to New York, Mexico City and Sao Paulo. And air traffic congestion is at unbearable levels in China, the Gulf and the US.”

The Airports of Thailand Plc expects to cram 59 million passengers for the year to September (2017), against its 45-million-passenger annual handling capacity.

The expansion of Suvarnabhumi, which includes construction of a third runway and second passenger terminal, will cost over 110 billion baht and requires four years to be completed.

After the expansion, Suvarnabhumi’s annual passenger handling capacity will increase to 90 million, although industry experts expect the incremental capacity to be absorbed by then.

“Aviation’s economic benefits can only be unlocked if governments provide sufficient capacity, with service quality aligned to user expectations and at an affordable cost,” said Mr de Juniac.

When governments link developments in aviation to national economic strategy, the results can be amazing, he said. Singapore, South Korea, the UAE, Qatar and Panama are among those rare examples to have done so.

Germany is making efforts to join the club with its recently announced Aviation Concept. But the country needs to move from concept to action, Mr de Juniac said, adding that other states will hopefully see the benefits and follow.

He said that privatisation of airports and aviation infrastructure in some countries has “failed to deliver” the promised benefits, as passengers and the economy continue to suffer from high costs.

“Many cash-strapped governments see privatisation as the solution to infrastructure funding. They should be cautious,” said Mr de Juniac. “The concessionaire makes money. The government gets its cut. The airlines pay the bill — usually a big one. And passengers and the local economy suffer the results of higher costs.”

He said when governments privatise critical infrastructure, economic regulation is essential.

“To date I cannot name a single success story. Finding the solution is an important piece of work that needs government and industry collaboration. It’s the only way to balance the investor’s need for profit with the community’s need for cost-efficient connectivity,” said Mr de Juniac.

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