Region in chaos as air links severed

November 29th, 2008 by admin

The severing of air links with Bangkok – a vital air hub that handles 3% of world air cargo and 100,000 travellers a day – rippled through the region with airlines scrambling to reroute passengers and freight as hopes for a quick resolution to the crisis faded.

The government yesterday backed away from a threat to use force to disperse the protesters who have shut down the capital’s two commercial airports, setting the scene for a prolonged disruption to transport across the region and a massive blow to the kingdom’s economy.

Since Tuesday, dozens of airlines have cancelled all flights to and from Bangkok until further notice while others made special arrangements to rescue passengers stranded in Thailand, some by utilising U-tapao airport.

Suvarnabhumi airport is one of the world’s most “densely connected” airports, serving about 100 airlines with flights to 184 cities in 68 countries, said Andrew Herdman, director-general of the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines.

“The biggest impact is on Thai Airways. Their hub is shut and crippling their operations,” said Mr Herdman. “The ripple effect for other Asian carriers in rerouting passengers and cargo causes a significant knock-on disruption.”

On a normal day, about 100,000 passengers pass through Suvarnabhumi, Mr Herdman said. “That’s a lot of inconvenience for a lot of people,” he said.

Thai Airways, losing 490 million baht in revenue a day with its fleet parked on the tarmac, said yesterday it would try to operate flights from U-tapao airport.

But it was unlikely U-tapao could handle more than a trickle of extra passengers. U-tapao’s car park has room for just 100 vehicles and its terminal can accommodate only 400 people at once.

Cathay Pacific Airways scheduled two flights yesterday and today from U-tapao airport to bring home Hong Kong residents, said spokeswoman Carolyn Leung. Air Macao and Malaysia’s AirAsia are also planning rescue flights to U-tapao.

Tourism officials and economists says the tourism industry’s losses over the remainder of the year will balloon to about 150 billion baht, equal to 1.5% of gross domestic product, with two million or more travellers canceling their plans.

Exporters in Thailand are aghast at the mounting costs of lost trade, estimated by the Federation of Thai Industries at two to three billion baht a day.

Singapore Airlines’ six daily flights to Bangkok were halted for a third day. Japan Airlines has stopped all five daily flights between Bangkok and three Japanese cities, including Tokyo, since Wednesday.

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