Asia news

E&T reports from Bangkok and Manila.

Bangkok to be aircraft maintenance hub

The Thai government plans to turn Bangkok's Don Muang Airport into an engineering maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) hub in the region for civil aircraft.

The facility, which officially opened as a Royal Thai Air Force base in 1914, is managed by a public-listed government agency, Airports of Thailand (AOT). It was the city's inter-national airport until September 2006, when the new Suvarnabhumi Airport opened. Don Muang is currently used for domestic flights operated by two low-cost carriers.

According to AOT president Serirat Prasutanond, the government will firm up plans next month. AOT, which will continue to manage Don Muang, will not pay for building hangars but would provide the space for a fee. Costs will have to be borne by the companies concerned.

Serirat said EADS, parent company of Airbus, has expressed interest in setting up an MRO facility for Airbus A320 landing gear, while Europe Aviation wants an aircraft MRO base in Don Muang.

However, both companies want the government to waive the 49 per cent limit on foreign ownership of aircraft MRO operations in Thailand.

Thailand may defer auction of 3G licences

Thailand may defer indefinitely the long-awaited auction for four more 3G mobile broadband licences scheduled for 10 December.

According to Thailand's Information and Communications technology minister Ranongruk Suwunchwee, the requirements drawn up by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) for companies to bid for the four licences favour Thai firms with foreign equity. "This puts state-owned companies TOT Public Co (previously known as Telephone Organisation of Thailand) and CAT Telecom at a disadvantage," Ranongruk told reporters in Bangkok.

NTC's requirement states that a qualified bidder must be a Thai entity or have foreign partners holding not more than a combined 49 per cent stake. Bidders must also have a bandwidth of 1.9 to 2.1GHz. Successful bidders must begin commercial operations by the first quarter of 2010.

The government has already issued four 3G licences to True Move, TOT subsidiary Thai Mobile, Advanced Info Service (AIS) which has SingTel participation and Total Access Communications with Norway's Telenor shareholding.

AIS launched its service in December 2008 using high-speed packet access technology and Total Access in June. Thai Mobile plans to launch the first phase of its service in December with 500 base stations.

The licences already awarded were based on fixed licensing fees, while the four to be auctioned will be based on a portion of their revenue to be paid to state-owned firms for the right to operate their networks they built and paid for.

Thai Mobile, AIS, Total Access and True Move are eligible to bid for the four licences at stake. It could not be determined how many other companies are in line for the bidding.

Thailand's mobile sector, which is seen as reaching saturation point, is projected to grow only 4 per cent this year.

Problem airport to be relocated

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has decided to close and relocate Catarman National Airport (CNA), Samar province, where runway incursions by people and vehicles have been a bane to flight operations.

The Authority's action is in response to requests by local airlines to resolve safety issues at the facility. CAAP spokesman Ricardo Bautista said a site in the province has been identified, 20km from the existing airport.

Tenders will be called in January and construction is expected to start in April, with completion in November 2011. The airport would open a month later after testing of the ground radar and navigational systems. It will cater for turboprop aircraft. To cost US$40m, it will be funded by the Federal government.

Bautista said concrete barricades will be built at CNA to enhance safety before construction of the new airport starts.

"CAAP has decided that the existing airport cannot continue to operate for long as it is too close to a squatter area which is home to about 12,000 people," Bautista told E&T.

Bautista acknowledged that the domestic airlines would be taking a risk operating at CNA under present conditions.

Cebu Pacific Air, PAL Express and Zest Airways had suspended flights to the airport. P Ramos Airport in Caticlan in Aklan province is being used until safety is enhanced at CNA.

What is surprising is that the authorities took three years before making a decision to build concrete barricades at CNA and to build a new airport.

The need for a new airport is part of the plan to upgrade the country's civil aviation rating, which was downgraded by US watchdog Federal Aviation Administration to Category 2 from Category 1 in 2007.

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