Airports Council International (ACI), the world referee of all things to do with aviation support services, regularly publishes a list of the best airports both worldwide, and regionally. Phuket Airport didn't even make it onto any list, whilst Suvarnabhumi in Bangkok languishes in mediocrity, well down the field. This casts serious doubts upon Thailand's grandiose plans for becoming a regional aviation hub. Ominously, poor neighbour Hyderabad GMR Rajiv Ghandhi International Airport topped their category, which should be a wake-up call for our Airports Authority.
In a previous article we catalogued the considerable improvements in services and infrastructure which both the national facilities have achieved of late, and there is no doubt that these are substantial. However, the ACI listings are dominated by other Asian airports, our regional competitors.
First though let's give credit, where credit is due. In 2007, it's first full year of operation, Suvarnabhumi was ranked at a miserable, but deserved, 48. The following year it made it to 38, and last year, 24. Steady progress. Let's hope that the powers-that-be can sustain the momentum. Their own stated objective is to make it into the world top ten.
In the past year, Suvarnabhumi has replaced the un-upholstered, ugly, cold, uncomfortable grey metal seats that should never have found their way into a 21st-century international facility. However, there are still no free internet services at departure gates, and there are only a total of 9000 baggage trolleys, available for use by passengers. The shortage of trolleys has been a major complaint from day one - apparently large numbers were purloined - perhaps by local supermarkets.
The best airports in the world according to the ACI survey are, in descending order of excellence:
Hyderabad's fifth place (they also headed the '5 to 15 million passengers per year' group) came as a particular surprise, because the sad fact is, that Indian airports have been a disgrace for many years. Until recently, even Delhi Airport barely registered on the scale of adequacy, never mind distinction. The last time I transited this airport, its 'new' terminal was a poorly built prefabricated structure, which was a pitiable gateway to what has become one of the world's burgeoning economies. So the Hyderabad success story does show what can be achieved, with adequate finance, sound planning and management. Suvarnabhumi and Phuket please note.
In the 'over 40 million passengers per year' category, (this is the category applicable to Suvarnabhumi) this is how things stacked up. Hong Kong was first followed by Beijing, Denver, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston. In the '25 to 40 million passengers per year' category, Incheon was first then came Singapore, Tokyo Narita, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai Pudong. The Chinese airports, by the way, are monsters. I attended the opening of Beijing Capital International Airport three years ago. Its size and the overwhelming flow of humanity, unbelievable.
The latest ACI survey also shows that with determination an airport can be improved pretty quickly. Here's a listing of airports which have managed to rise up through the rankings very rapidly: in Africa, Cairo in Europe, Pont Delgada in the Middle East, Abu Dhabi in Latin America, Cancun and in North America, Cleveland.
So there's hope for Phuket and Suvarnabhumi to continue to improve, but there's no room for complacency. What is needed is consistent management, a dedication to customer service, robust policing of ancillary services and a strong dedication to achieve excellence.
There are many questions asked by curious aeroplane enthusiasts. In the months to come we’ll be trying to answer some of these. However, a word of warning, the answers can be chilling. If you’re presently sitting in a departure lounge you might be advised to turn to the next page, right now.
Question: “Can a standard Boeing 747 fly upside down?”
The short answer is, “Yes, but probably not for very long.” And it’s all theoretical, as nobody’s ever tried it. 747s are massively engineered, and Boeing’s safety record over many years, attests to this. Quite apart from the practical considerations of what would happen to the animate and inanimate contents of the fuselage, it’s more a matter of aerodynamics, than structural integrity. Whether it’s a barrel roll or looping the loop, everything (and I use the word advisedly) would depend on the pilot’s ability to maintain sufficient forward momentum during the manoeuvre. Failure to do this will result in the ‘fasten seatbelts’ signs coming on, followed by CWT – a harmless sounding abbreviation for ‘contact with terrain’.
Enjoy your flight.
By Alastair Carthew, a Phuket based writer and communications advisor.
Tel: +66 (0)76 317929