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Cablegate: December 2: Update On Thailand's Make-Shift

VZCZCXRO3789
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHBK #3531/01 3371123
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 021123Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5277
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING IMMEDIATE 6582
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA IMMEDIATE 9258
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL IMMEDIATE 5114
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI IMMEDIATE 5935
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY IMMEDIATE 0853
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 003531

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, CA, EEB, DS
TRANSPORTATION FOR TSA
STATE PASS TO USTR
TREASURY FOR OASIA
COMMERCE FOR EAP/MAC/OKSA
SINGAPORE FOR FINATT BAKER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC CASC CMGT EAIR EFIN PGOV PREL ETRD TH
SUBJECT: DECEMBER 2: UPDATE ON THAILAND'S MAKE-SHIFT
AIRLINE AND AIRPORT OPERATIONS

REF: BANGKOK 3492 (MOB SHUTS BANGKOK AIRPORT)

BANGKOK 00003531 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) Summary: The Embassy is assisting Amcits 24 hours
a day though a call center manned by consular officers and
volunteers from the Embassy community, to find hotel rooms
and/or outbound transportation from Thailand. Neither United
nor Northwest, the only U.S. carriers that serve Bangkok,
have plans to resume flights at this point. We are exploring
the feasibility of USG-arranged charter flights, but are not
yet suggesting that publicly. While most makeshift Thai
Airways operations are currently based at U-Tapao air base 90
miles from Bangkok, smaller airlines are standing up
international flight operations at smaller airports around
the country. The military wing of Don Muang airport in
Bangkok may be the best option for charter flights, once TSA
personnel arrive in-country to begin airport inspection and
certification efforts. End summary.

Consular Efforts
----------------

2. (SBU) In order to best continue the level of service
that has been available to Amcits since the closure of
airports, the Consular Section has established a call center,
operated by consular and volunteer Embassy staff twenty-four
hours a day, to assist Americans, including providing them
with airline and hotel contact information. We handled 60-80
calls total on December 2, down from roughly 200 a day over
the weekend. The Consular Section is also coordinating with
the Consular Affairs Bureau, in Washington, and with other
Mission elements, to arrange charter flights for Americans
later in the week (we've made no announcements until details
are in place). We are advising Amcits not to head to U-Tapao
or other airports outside of Bangkok unless they have a
confirmed reservation in hand.

3. (SBU) Consular has also reached out to other Embassies
in Thailand. The British, Canadian, and Australian Embassies
are all considering chartering flights for their citizens
according to their diplomats. The New Zealand Embassy has
been assisting its citizens to fly out of U-Tapao air base
150 miles southeast of Bangkok.

Airlines
--------

4. (SBU) The Embassy met with executives from United
Airlines and Northwest Airlines on December 1. United
reported it has canceled all flights to Bangkok through
December 4 with no plans to resume them in the near future.
United estimates 2,000 of their passengers are stranded in
Thailand. Northwest estimates they have about 1,500
passengers stuck in Thailand bound for the United States and
an additional 300 who intend to travel to Japan. T

5. (SBU) Thai Airways is offering the most international
service in the greater Bangkok area (from the military
airbase at U-Tapao, approximately 90 miles from Bangkok).
The airline posted on its website a schedule for December 2
listing several flights to their most popular destinations.
Thai Airways also announced plans to arrange a flight from
U-Tapao to Los Angeles via Japan. However, United and
Northwest executives confirm anecdotal reports that these
flights are difficult to book and are on a first-come
first-served basis. According to the Thai Airways website
and local travel agents, passengers must check in seven hours
in advance at a convention center in downtown Bangkok before
boarding buses for U-Tapao airport. Other international
airlines are increasing U-Tapao operations as well.

Airports
---------

6. (SBU) Suvarnabhumi: Protesters have occupied the
airport since November 25 (see reftel A) with no apparent

BANGKOK 00003531 002.2 OF 003


plan to leave. No flights are leaving or arriving at the
airport. However, industry executives confirmed to the
Embassy on December 1 that about 80 empty aircraft that had
been parked at the airport, primarily belonging to Thai
Airways, were allowed to be flown out without passengers.
About 90 more empty aircraft remain at the airport.
According to industry insiders, protesters have also
surrounded the control towers and, if they chose to, could
easily overrun them.

7. (SBU) Don Muang: The military side of Don Muang airport
is available for chartered flights, which because of its
convenience to the city would probably be preferable to
arranging long bus rides to distant airports. The Embassy
spoke with the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) on December 2 and
determined that Wing Six, primarily reserved for military
flights, is available for charter aircraft. The Embassy is
working with Thai immigration and aviation officials to
establish procedures for potential flights. The RTAF said
France is already chartering flights from Wing Six using 747
aircraft. The protesters are located on the civilian side of
the airport, and, at this point, have demonstrated no
intention to cross over to the military side. The RTAF told
us the area is secure. An airport official confirmed that
someone threw a bomb near the access road to the civilian
side of the airport around midnight December 2. The official
estimated that one person was killed and over 20 wounded.

8. (SBU) U-Tapao: International flights departing from the
Bangkok area are now taking off from U-Tapao. Primarily a
military airport, U-Tapao has shouldered most of the burden
since the airport seizures by protesters. Executives at
major U.S. airlines reported that usage of U-Tapao presents
many problems, the greatest being that it is not certified by
the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Therefore, direct flights from U-Tapao are not yet being
allowed to land in the United States. In addition, given
flight demand, U-Tapao lacks sufficient equipment such as
stairs, check-in counters, and luggage trucks, and cannot
accommodate enough Thai customs and immigration officials.
Nevertheless, airline executives indicate that ground
equipment is being transferred to U-Tapao and flight capacity
at the airport may be increased from about 20 per day to
40-50 flights a day. Currently, Thai Airways operates the
vast majority of flights from U-Tapao. Neither United nor
Northwest are operating flights from U-Tapao, but executives
at the airlines have told us they might be prepared to begin
flights if TSA can certify the airport. (Note: TSA
inspectors are en route to Thailand).

9. (SBU) Chiang Mai: The international airport in Chiang
Mai could ramp up for additional international flights, but
the distance, 350 miles from Bangkok, could be a complicating
factor for Amcits stranded in Bangkok, but a strong
possibility for Amcits stranded in northern Thailand. Chiang
Mai can be reached by bus or train.

10. (SBU) Other airports: Phuket has an international
airport, but is only reachable from Bangkok by a 10-12 hour
bus ride. Airports in Korat, Hua Hin, and Phitsanulok are
not equipped for international flights at this point.
Bangkok Airways has begun operating flights from Hua Hin to
Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, via the Thai resort island Samui,
but the landing strip in Samui is only long enough for a
Boeing 737.

Security
--------

11. (SBU) TSA anticipates two TSA representatives will
arrive in Bangkok by train or bus via Phuket by December 3.
An additional nine or ten transportation security inspectors
will arrive later this week. The inspectors will begin the
inspection process for U-Tapao and Wing Six at Don Muang, and
at other airports as other options develop. Certification

BANGKOK 00003531 003.2 OF 003


will require inspection of all security aspects at the new
airport locations. Note: Suvarnabhumi will need to be
recertified once the protesters leave. Depending of the
condition of the airport, estimates range from 2 to 10 days
for how long re-certification could take.

12. (SBU) Security at Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang (civilian
side), where protesters have encamped, has all but been
abandoned. Countermeasures such as identification access
control procedures and personnel screening are no longer
present. The security apparatus at the U-Tapao airport is
ill-equipped to handle the current volume of overflow
passengers and reports suggest that security protocols at
this airport could easily be circumvented. A series of
specific security measures and procedures need to be
exercised and conducted if security is to be brought up to
even minimal standards. The RSO office will work closely
with TSA, airlines, and other Mission sections to ensure the
safety of passengers that may travel on U.S. airlines or
charter flights.

13. (SBU) The security situation in Bangkok remains calm
and stable. Embassy warden messages and staff announcements
urge Amcits to avoid areas where protesters (both pro and
anti-government) have congregated. While there have been
reports of random explosions and shootings in and around the
protest sites, there have been no instances of violence in
other areas of the city.

14. (SBU) A septel addresses December 2 political
developments.
JOHN

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