In the latest and largest step in Thailand’s drastic approach to airport planning, AirAsia began day one of its expulsion from Bangkok’s new and already congested airport at Suvarnabhumi at the city’s old airport at Don Muang today.
After previously resisting the move, AirAsia’s group CEO Tony Fernandes copped it the Asia way, saying:
“I am extremely happy with our move to Don Mueang International Airport, which is probably Thailand’s biggest and first low cost airport.
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“Operating out of low cost airports has always been something that we have been fighting long and hard for, and this is a first step towards a big change in the low-cost carrier industry in this region. Don Mueang International Airport is fully ready to accommodate Thai AirAsia’s services and help them achieve the goals they have set.
“This is a perfect place for a low-cost airline to operate for many reasons. Less congestion and shorter taxi time will result in less fuel consumption and less delays.”
The short history of the situation is that Thailand decreed a one airport policy at Bangkok to support its very large and much delayed investment in the new airport which opened at the Cobra Swamp in 2006, but only after being renamed Suvarnabhumi, which was considered an improvement on the original name.
So, everyone went from Don Muang, which is 23 kilometres to the north of central Bangkok to the no longer Cobra Swamp, 30 kilometres to its east.
Within a few years the popularity of Thailand with visitors, and rising levels of demand from its emerging newly rich, was making Suvarnabhumi resemble Sydney Airport on a ‘good’ day, and the writing was on the wall.
Fortunately the old airport at Don Muang hadn’t been sold off for real estate, and it reopened one of its three terminals in 2007, when it had already become apparent that there was significant demand for services from that location, and the cost savings associated with a more compact and lower charging airport.
Nok Air, the original low cost brand of Thai International, and the notorious One-Two-GO airlines operation were among the early adopters of the rehabilitated Don Muang. In March the Thai government ordered the other low cost carriers to relocate to Don Muang, and also said that it was hoping to persuade Thai International to shift its domestic flights there as well, and in full.
Given the rate of growth of the Thai economy and travel to Bangkok, the city is going to need both airports and if it sprawls even further, and perhaps a third one. The official road connection time between the two airports is quoted by some authorities as 50 minutes, which is heroic or miraculous, depending on your beliefs.
The AirAsia exodus from Suvarnabhumi was a large operation involving the transfer of some 25 A320s which were based at the new airport in support of its Thai AirAsia franchise, which allows it to access Thai flag carrier privileges in bilateral traffic agreements. So far it is claimed that all 160 flights that would have been operated from Suvarnabhumi pre-decree are operating as scheduled from the old airport.
The road and motorway options between Don Muang and Bangkok central can take an hour, or longer, to navigate, and at risk of renal failure. The new airport at Suvarnabhumi isn’t much different when it comes to road options, but it also has a fast, comfortable and inexpensive rail link to the centre of town that takes as little as 15 minutes.
And Don Muang is also spelled Don Mueang, for those who were wondering.