Bangkok flights face delays

A Thai Airways plane, with its logo and name covered up, rests on ground the morning after it skidded off the runway at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok on September 9, 2013.

BANGKOK - Passengers flying out of Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok can expect inconvenience and delays until a runway damaged by a crash landing by a Thai Airways flight late on Sunday night is opened again tomorrow.

Work is now being done to salvage the damaged plane and repair the runway pavement.

In a statement early yesterday, Thai Airways president Sorajak Kasemsuwan said the landing seemed to be routine until pilots detected a fault in the landing gear, before the aircraft skidded to the right.

"Initially it was probably the front landing gear that broke, but a further investigation is needed to find out the cause," he said. The engine having problem did not catch fire, but only caused sparkling.

In a detailed statement later, Sorajak said the incident was beyond the pilots' capacity to control. The plane, which is 18 years old, underwent a full inspection and routine maintenance before the flight began. It had had an overhaul in April, while the pilots had 14 years of experience.

He apologised to passengers on board the flight and to people who were inconvenienced.

The worst injury sustained by a passenger, a Chinese national, was a broken wrist, he said.

Sorajak said he visited all four passengers at two hospitals and that their treatment costs would be covered by Thai Airways. The Chinese passenger with a broken wrist would be given a free air ticket back to China, and expenses if he returns to Thailand for a possible future trip, as his trip was spoiled because of the accident and injury.

Sorajak said black paint was put on the Thai Airways logo at the back of the plane to cover it, as part of accident procedure. And certain cabin crew left the aircraft before passengers to prepare cushion ladders on the ground, as part of standard safety procedure - not to escape, as claimed in passengers' complaints that circulated on social media.

Thai Airways later said passengers in economy class would be given US$100 (Bt3,219) for delays in delivering their luggage, and those in business class would get $200.

Sorajak said injured passengers would be compensated while all 288 onboard would possibly get an extra payout to make up for the inconvenience. All luggage would be given to them at their hotels or accommodation where they are staying, and belongings left in the cabin were being retrieved, with policemen present as witnesses to ensure nothing went missing or was stolen.

Airports of Thailand (AOT) president Sita Divari said around 200 flights would face delays during the 48 hours that Runway 19 L was closed, while the Airbus 330-300 is salvaged.

Meanwhile, the five-hour job to repair the runway would cost around Bt1 million. That would be paid by Thai Airways, and the work done at the same time.

Sita said all airlines had been informed of an AOT offer that they could switch to use Don Mueang as an alternative airport during this time, but none wished to do so.

The crash of flight TG679 caused delays to 99 airborne flights waiting to land for an average of 15 minutes while delaying 106 departing flights, for an average 30 minutes, from the time of accident at 11.20pm on Sunday night till 1.30pm yesterday afternoon.

Flight TG679 carried 288 passengers including one infant and 14 crew. All up, 12 passengers sustained injuries, including shock and people who choked on thick smoke or fainted.

Department of Civil Aviation director-general Worradej Harnprasert said an initial in-house investigation found that the rear starboard landing-gear broke. A further investigation using in-flight details from the black box, to begin today when the unit is expected to be retrieved, would conclude the cause of the drama.

He said airport fire engines scrambled to put out a blaze caused when the fuselage dragged over the runway. His statement contradicted Sorajak's about fire burning the aircraft, but there were several passengers who reported choking on inhaled smokes during the rescue.