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SBIA awaits November election result.

Corruption and political instability are being blamed for the continued delay to construction of the second Bangkok international airport at Nong Ngu Hao, writes Ben Moore.

Delays have become a defining character of the four-decade-old project. Only 13% has so far been completed and government officials are hard pressed to confirm if the troubled scheme will be operational by its 2004 deadline.

"Every big project has to deal with political influence. This is a national problem," said Deputy Premier and Commerce Minister, Supachai Panitchpakdi, who chairs the New Bangkok International Airport (NBIA) development committee.

He added, in an interview with The Bangkok Post, that in the past politicians had represented vested interests that tried to make profits from the $3billion project, the current government was free of such problems.

However, he was unable to make the same assurances after the government ends its tenure this November. "Before the government ends, I will try to set a clear guideline that will guarantee the progress of the project. If we leave too many problems that need decisions, the project can be shaken. The construction of the new airport should not be delayed beyond 2004 or 2006," he said.

Government changes in the past have deprived the project of management continuity and although loan contracts and NBIA guarantees will ensure progress, there is still a fear that political influence might delay completion.

The Nong Ngu Hao plan was first suggested in 1960 so the activities of commercial airlines and the military at Don Muang airport could be separated. It took a decade for the government to buy the 32sqkm plot of land earmarked for development to the south east of Bangkok.

Shelved

However, the scheme was shelved until 1991 when the Airports Authority of Thailand was assigned to implement the project. The master plan and conceptual design won cabinet approval in 1995.

In another setback, in 1996, it was revealed that the airport could not be completed by the original 2000 schedule due to a delay in the passenger terminal design and the relocation of villagers from the project site.

In January 1997, the Government decided to officially delay the Nong Ngu Hao project and switch more investment to expand Don Muang to serve Bangkok's air traffic until 2007. In the meantime, it postponed the Nong Ngu Hao schedule to 2003 and reduced the airports initial capacity from serving 30 million passengers annually to 20 million, and from having two runways to one.

When the opposition came into power in late 1997, it revived the policy to develop Nong Ngu Hao, raising capacity back to 30 million annual passengers.

Yet further controversy ensued following the tendering process for drainage of the swampy airport site. Bids for the landfill contract were invited in September 1996. The NBIA opened bids mid-November and signed a deal with the winning contractor, Italian-Thai Development (ITD), in the same month.

Unsuccessful bidders complained, claiming they were disqualified too fast and unfairly. Out of 19 bidders, 13 found they were disqualified immediately upon opening the tender documents because they were required to have installed five million metres of prefabricated vertical drains within a three-year period before entering the bidding contest.

Suspended

As a result the Transport Ministry suspended the landfill in January 1998 but it dared not terminate the deal for fear of being sued by ITD. However, the landfill work was scaled down from $275 million to $175 million, in line with government plans at the time to downsize the Nong Ngu Hao project to one runway.

After November's general election, it will depend on the new government as to whether or not the Nong Ngu Hao deadline of 2004 will be met.

In related news, about 1,500 staff of the Airports Authority of Thailand rallied at their head office in Don Muang at the end of May to demand job guarantees after the state enterprise is privatised. The AAT employees association wants a clear promise that staff will not be laid off, that salaries will be maintained and that AAT regional airports will continue to operate as state enterprises.
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Publication:Airports International
Date:Jul 1, 2000
Words:682
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