If this is a Soft Opening, prepare for a Hard Landing

The big news in Thailand this week was the “soft opening” of Bangkok’s new Suvarnabhumi International Airport. But after the much hyped landing of VIP planes on Thursday, don’t expect any more flights for the rest of this year. In fact, the airport is not scheduled to handle any regular commercial flights until June of next year, and even that goal may be a bit optimistic. Many industry experts say that the real opening could be 12-18 months away.

So why did the Thai government make this mad rush to “open” the airport well before it was ready for commercial air traffic? And why waste so much fuel and manpower just so a bunch of VIPs could parade around in the new terminal? Ah, it’s politics, don’t you know! The Thai government hopes that the swanky new airport will help it achieve its goal of being the region’s aviation hub. The airport has been dubbed by one local newspaper as “the world’s longest running project of its kind” due to the fact that plans for its construction began over 30 years ago! After years (okay, decades) of delays, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra promised the Thai public that the airport would be open by September 29 this year. Sluggish construction made such a goal unrealistic, but Thaksin became obsessed with meeting this deadline, even if it meant only one plane – his plane - would land on the tarmac.

Asked by a foreign reporter why the Thai government decided on the premature airport opening, Thaksin snapped: “I didn’t expect this sort of question from the BBC.” Oh, no? What did he expect? Cooking advice on how to make spicier Tom Yum Goong? Even though he appeared annoyed by the question, Thaksin attempted to explain his reasoning for the rushed opening. “If we didn't set a date, the schedule would slip further behind and this would have cost the country more,” he said. “We set today so that everyone had a goal, so that they could work actively.”

Some of that work, according to reports in the media, included the use of air rifles to “scare away” animals in the vicinity (such as birds, dogs and turtles) that might have impeded the safe landing of the PM’s plane. The waste of fuel used on this glorified publicity stunt (which included test flights the day before, and a second plane full of media on opening day) rivals George W. Bush and his entourage making their myriad hurricane tours to the US gulf coast.

What are the politicians hoping to accomplish, besides a staging a bunch of photo ops and acting like they are actually doing something productive?

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