Unrest delays plans for ASA’s Thailand FBOs

 - December 30, 2008, 5:35 AM

After a week’s closure due to an occupation by opponents of the then government, operations resumed at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International and Don Muang airports on December 4. But it remains to be seen whether the resulting loss of confidence in Thailand’s political stability will lead to a decline in the amount of business aviation traffic it receives.

According to Simon Wagstaff, managing director of Asian security and ground handling specialist ASA Group, traffic volumes had declined in recent months in line with western companies’ diminishing appetite for investing in new markets. In his opinion, the fact that Thailand’s political system remains in a state of flux will not help to restore confidence and could drive business traffic to other southeast Asian countries, such as Cambodia, in search of more stable opportunities.

ASA, which also has operations in Hong Kong, Cambodia and Myanmar, was kept busy during the last week of November and the first week of December, helping to protect and evacuate foreigners from Thailand. It chartered aircraft from Hong Kong, Singapore and China to collect passengers at alternative airports such as Phuket International, 530 miles south of Bangkok; and the U-Tapao naval air base, about 80 miles south of the capital. At one point, ASA staff had to physically protect executives with several European companies as violence flared up at U-Tapao, where several thousand passengers were crammed into a terminal building that could comfortably accommodate 300 people.

Meanwhile, ASA has put on hold its plans to establish a pair of FBOs in Thailand through a deal that would see it take over the management of the Thai government’s VIP terminals in Bangkok and Phuket. As soon as the occasionally violent protests erupted in Bangkok, government officials commandeered the VIP building at Don Muang Airport as a venue for emergency cabinet meetings, and it is still being used for government business.

The Airports of Thailand agency has told ASA that it can start operations at Phuket, but Wagstaff has indicated that he is not convinced by the immediate business case for making a substantial investment at that location. He may now focus his efforts on establishing bases at destinations in Cambodia and other countries in the region.