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Bangkok airports shutdown ripples through region
Nov. 28, 2008 Bangkok,Thailand (The Associated Press, By Stephen Wright) - The severing of air links with Thailand'scapital - a vital air hub that handles three per cent of world aircargo and 100,000 travellers a day - rippled through the region withairlines scrambling to reroute passengers and freight as hopes for aquick resolution to the crisis faded. Thailand's embattled government Friday backed away from a threatto use force to disperse the protesters who have shut down Bangkok'stwo commercial airports, setting the scene for a prolongeddisruption to transport across the region and a massive blow to thekingdom's economy.Since Tuesday, dozens of airlines have cancelled all flights toand from Bangkok until further notice while others made specialarrangements to rescue passengers stranded in Thailand by using atiny airport southeast of the capital.``What's happening in Bangkok is going to be very damaging to ourbusiness,'' said Tony Tyler, chief executive of Hong Kong-basedcarrier Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., which has two Boeing 777sstranded in Bangkok.``But more importantly, it's going to be very damaging to thetourism development of Thailand, which of course is very importantfor that country and the airlines serving it,'' Tyler told reportersin Hong Kong. The overall impact will last longer than ``just theimmediate closure of the airport.''Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, the main gateway to Thailand, isone of the world's most ``densely connected'' airports, servingabout 100 airlines with flights to 184 cities in 68 countries, said

Andrew Herdman, director general of the Association of Asia Pacific

Airlines.



``The biggest impact is on Thai Airways. Their hub is shut and

crippling their operations,'' said Herdman, whose association's 17

member airlines carry 33 per cent of global air cargo and 18 per

cent of passengers. ``The ripple effect for other Asian carriers in

terms of rerouting passengers and cargo causes a significant

knock-on disruption.''



On a normal day, about 100,000 passengers pass through

Suvarnabhumi. ``That's a lot of inconvenience for a lot of people,''

he said.



Thai International Airways PCL, losing $14 million in revenue a

day with its fleet parked on the tarmac, said Friday it would try to

operate flights from U-tapao airport, near the resort town of

Pattaya, about 190 kilometres southeast of Bangkok.



But it was unlikely the tiny airport could handle more than a

trickle of extra passengers. U-tapao airport's parking lot has room

for just 100 vehicles and its terminal can accommodate only 400

people at once, according to its website.



Cathay Pacific has scheduled two flights on Friday and Saturday

from U-tapao airport to bring home Hong Kong residents, said

spokeswoman Carolyn Leung. Air Macao and Malaysia's AirAsia are also

planning rescue flights to U-tapao.



Suvarnabhumi airport grounded all flights after protesters took

over terminals Tuesday in an attempt to unseat Prime Minister

Somchai Wongsawat's government, which they claim is a puppet for

ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra. It was the latest escalation in a

sometimes violent four-month campaign by protesters to bring down

the government.



On Wednesday night, protesters overran a second smaller airport

that mainly serves domestic routes, cutting off all commercial

flights to the capital of Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy _

an important manufacturing hub for automakers like Toyota Motor

Corp., which said so far it had no shortages of parts supplies.



Tourism officials and economists project the tourism industry's

losses over the remainder of the year will balloon to about 150

billion baht ($4.2 billion), equal to 1.5 per cent of gross domestic

product, with two million or more travelers likely canceling their

plans.



Exporters in Thailand are aghast at the rapidly mounting costs of

lost trade, estimated by the Federation of Thai Industries at two

billion to three billion baht a day ($57 million to $85 million).



Vichai Assarasakorn, president of the Thai Gem & Jewelry Traders

Association, said the jewelry industry faces export losses of $500

million a month if shipments of finished jewelry and loose gem

stones to Europe, the U.S., Japan and other countries aren't

resumed.



``We are facing a double crisis. Sales for December-January were

already expected to be lower because of the U.S. liquidity

problems,'' he said. ``Now customers have orders stuck at the

airport. If they can't be shipped, orders will be canceled.''



Thai Airways said it will arrange special flights for hundreds of

Thai Muslims whose plans to go to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, the

pilgrimage to Mecca _ a once-in-a-lifetime event for most Muslims _

have been disrupted by the airport chaos.



One flight with about 250 pilgrims will depart Friday from Hat

Yai airport in the country's Muslim-majority south, said Thai

Airways Executive Vice President Narongsak Sangapong. Monday is the

last day they can arrive in Saudi Arabia for the Hajj.



Singapore Airlines' six daily flights to Bangkok remained

suspended for a third day and the airline said it would waive any

cancellation and rebooking fees for customers who lost flights.



Japan Airlines has cancelled all five daily flights between

Bangkok and three Japanese cities, including Tokyo, since Wednesday,

which so far has affected more than 6,100 people. Most passengers

stuck in Bangkok are still standing by with reservations at later

dates.