The Suvanabhumi Airport Background/History of the Project

Background/History of the Project
By Pas Seangsong
Source: Asia Business Magazine, Asiaweek, the Nation, Bangkok Post
Back to the SUVANABHUMI AIRPORT main page

Bangkok's long delayed second international airport is frequently cited as a classic example of Thailand's poor track record of economic planning and management for large infrastructure projects. The second airport project has been bogged down for the past three decades particularly as a result of endless political inference. The project's completion has passed through two initial deadlines, the first in 1990 and the second in 2000.

Previous governments have already invested considerable resources to expand the existing Don Muang Airport to cope with growing traffic volume. Don Muang has already reached its full capacity at 30 million passengers per annum. What is at stake is not just another high profile infrastructure project, but Thailand's chance of becoming the aviation hub for South East Asia.

Conceived in the 1960s
The New Bangkok International Airport or Suvanabhumi Airport as it is now known, has been in planning since 1960 when the government of the day commissioned a master plan for the 1990 Bangkok Metropolis. The airport's site, Nong Ngu Hao - which translates as Cobra Swamp - is well situated about 30 kilometers east of Bangkok in Samut Prakan province. The government finalized the purchase of this boggy 3,100 hectare site in 1973. The project looked set to take off but came one day short of being approved in 1973 when a popular student uprising succeeded in overthrowing the government and the project has been shelved indefinitely.

Revival in the 1990s
It was not until the early 1990s when the Thai government decided to revive the project. The need for a new International Airport became a national agenda with the release of the government's 5 year plan by the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB). In April 1991, premier Anand Panyarachun approved the Second Bangkok International Airport (SBIA) and placed it under the control of the Airport Authority of Thailand (AAT) - the state run enterprise that operates Don Muang and other provincial airports in Thailand.

Already some 20 years behind schedule, the airport has proven to be a major organizational challenge for Thailand in the 1990s. The NESDB and AAT have however managed to push through with several consultancy contracts. The Netherlands Airport Consultants BV and Louis Berger (US) completed their master plan for SBIA in May 1993. Contracts have been subsequently awarded to designing systems to control floodwater and ground improvement (the Nong Ngu Hao site is notorious for its deep soft clay soil profile which need to be treated in order to cope with the demands of Boeing 747s). Work on the dike to prevent perennial flooding of the site was delayed to remove some 8,000 squatters.

Designing the terminal
In 1994, the government staged a major competition involving major international consultants for the design of the airport terminal - perhaps the most important contract for the airport project. The winning design was from the MJTA group of consultant, comprising Murphy Jahn Architecture and TAMS consultant (US) and ACT Engineering consultant (Thailand).

Keeping it Thai
MJTA's design of the new airport terminal consists mainly of a large glass and concrete terminal. This design immediately attracted criticism from architectural circles in Thailand for the apparent lack of 'Thai characteristics' in the design. The government formed a special committee to ensure that local cultural and artistic heritage was incorporated into the design of the terminal. This committee was chaired by then interior minister, General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh (who would later become Prime Minister). A group of local architects also raised concern whether the predominantly glass-clad structure was appropriate for Thailand's intense tropical climate. They argued that air-conditioning costs would be very expensive considering the will have a total floor area of 500,000 sqm. In order to minimize energy usage, the consultants proposed a huge roof trellis to shade the terminal against the intense tropical sun.

The New Bangkok International Airport Company
In February 1996, under the Banharn Silpa-Archa government, the New Bangkok International Airport Co was formed. This is a privately managed and state-owned company attached to the Ministry of Transport and Communications, that is responsible for the construction and operation of the Second Bangkok International Airport.

More delays
When General Chavalit Yongchiyudh followed Banharn as Prime Minister in 1996, he immediately called for the airport project to be shelved for an indefinite period. It was later revealed that Gen Chavalit planned to relocate the airport to the Bang Pu district in Samut Prakarn. This policy switch was seen as damaging, especially to the foreign investor's confidence. Allegations of corruption and economic mismanagement led to Gen Chavalit's government being voted out of office in 1997 (a few months after the floating and subsequent plunge of the Thai currency).

Renewal of the project
Construction of the airport resumed under the Democrat-led coalition government with the project deadline extended to 2004. By this time, the government was running out of money to finance the project although it remained committed to push ahead for the country's long term economic benefit.

Cost overruns
"The latest setback facing the Airport project stems from the fact that all four bids to construct the passenger terminal and the concourse complex are about Bt8 billion higher than the Bt45-billion budget that has been allocated. In an attempt to bring the price down, four measures were being taken. The airport’s designer Murphy Jahn Consortium has been asked to modify the design to bring the price within the Bt45-billion budget. For example, NBIA CO has called for the MJTA to find ways to limit the import of construction materials to only 20% from 64%. The government has also been asked to increase the budget. And the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, which is providing the Bt73-billion loan for construction work, has been asked for assistance."(Business in Thailand magazine website, December, 2000)

Alternative designs & the waiting game
Another alternative design of the passenger terminal, using a design-build option, was proposed by SBIA's project management team, Pacific Consultants (from Japan) who also made an estimation that the MJTA design would cost 70% over budget. While the government still opted to use the MJTA design and to open the bidding contest for engineering and construction contracts, they are also running out of patience waiting for MJTA consultants to adjust their design to lower construction costs.

Completion date
See the top of this page for the latest info on completion dates.

Airport Terminal Complex

Total Floor Area:
500,000 sqm (world's largest for a single terminal complex - the roof trellis will also be the largest of its kind).

Capacity: 30 million passenger a year first phase (ability to handle 76 flights per hour), The capacity would increased to 45-50 million passenger per annum after second run way complete and buildings space expand (by 2006). The airport will be expanded to its ultimate capacity (all phase) by 2010 to handle 112 flights per hour and accommodating 100 million passengers each year. Ability to handle 1.46 million tons of cargo per year Handling 51 aircraft stands and 24 remote parking bays for wide-bodied aircraft.

"the facilities will consist of four runways with twin passenger terminal building located both in the north and south together with satellite buildings located between the passenger terminal buildings."

Transport Connection
Highways are being built (connecting Bangkok's outer ring road?)
Mass transit link: the government proposed to extend the Skytrain from Onnuj); SRT's highspeed rail project from Huay-Kwang to Lad Krabang to Chonburi will have a spur line connecting the New Airport - the project is off and on)

Stakeholders
Airport Authority of Thailand (provide 1/3 of funding); New Bangkok International Airport Co. (responsible for managing construction) Thai Ministry of Finance + Transport and Communications Ministry; The Japanese Bank for International Cooperation - JBIC ; (responsible for 59% of the project's finance) National Economic and Social Development Board

Major Contractors
Master planning - National Airports Consultants BV, Louis Berger International General Engineering Consultants (GEC) responsible for project design.
NACO, Netherlands Airport Consultants B.V.
Louis Berger International Inc.
Design 103 Ltd.
Asian Engineering Consultants Corp.,Ltd.
Index International for project design.
Team Consulting Engineers Co.,Ltd.

Management studies
Coopers & Lybrand (now Price Waterhouse Cooper)

Land fill, ground improvement / airside improvement
Ital-Thai Group, CH Karnchang

Airport Terminal design
MJTA Consultants, comprising Murphy Jahn - architecture, TAMS Consultant and Act engineering consultant

Urban development around the airport
in the tendering process

Project Management Consultants Group (PMC)
Pacific Consultants International
Roge and Associates Co., Ltd
Epsilon Co., LTD
Asian Engineering Consultants Co., LTD

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