Jetstar Asia at the head of Suvarnabhumi queue

Singapore - Jetstar Asia, the Singaporean budget carrier owned by Qantas of Australia, will become the first foreign airline to operate through Suvarnabhumi Airport on Sept 15, two weeks ahead of the Sept 28 opening date.

The carrier's decision to be the first of 80 international airlines serving Thailand to use the new airport reflects its confidence in the airport's readiness, which has been questioned by most industry executives and the public at large.

Chief executive Chong Phit Lian described the decision as a deliberate move to gain momentum for an expedient and smooth transition in the relocation to Suvarnabhumi from Bangkok International Airport (Don Muang).

Jetstar Asia's decision was based on Ms Chong's personal inspection of the 125-billion-baht facility. From her perspective as an engineer, she said it should be up and running later this month as planned by the Thai authorities.

"I am confident the early move will enable our customers the first-mover advantage to enjoy and leverage on the amenities available at Suvarnabhumi Airport," she said on Friday.

Bangkok's new airport was a state-of-the-art facility offering a diverse variety of retail, food and beverage, and Internet access services and robust ground transport including buses and taxis, she said.

The only other airline that will start international services in and out of Suvarnabhumi ahead of the Sept 28 opening is the budget carrier Thai AirAsia.

Thai AirAsia's flights from Kota Bharu (Malaysia) Singapore, Macau and Hanoi airport, as well as certain domestic routes, are due to land at Suvarnabhumi on the night of Sept 24.

All Thai AirAsia flights will then start operating in and out of the new airport on Sept 25.

So far, most of the other foreign carriers are far from ready to move ahead of Sept 28 as they are still struggling to establish themselves at the new site.

They have no choice but to speed up their facilities to meet the deadlines, with airlines with larger operations having more headaches than smaller ones.

Airports of Thailand Plc, the operator of Thailand's international airports, has waived several airport charges, including landing and parking fees and airbridge usage, at Suvarnabhumi Airport from Sept 1-27 to encourage carriers to operate trial runs through the new facility.

Thai Airways International remains firm on operating entirely from Suvarnabhumi on Sept 28 although it will start domestic flights from Suvarnabhumi on three routes, with a total of five flights a day, on Sept 15.

Chosen because of limited flight connection requirements, the three routes are Suvarnabhumi-Phitsanulok (three flights), Suvarnabhumi-Ubon Ratchathani (one flight), and Suvarnabhumi-Chiang Mai (one flight).

Jetstar Asia runs three Airbus 320 flights a day from Singapore to Bangkok.

Its regional network includes India (Bangalore), Cambodia (Siem Reap and Phnom Penh), Thailand (Bangkok and Phuket), Hong Kong, the Philippines (Manila), Burma (Rangoon) and Taiwan (Taipei).

Valuair, which merged with Jetstar Asia in October 2005, also flies to Jakarta, Surabaya and Denpasar (Bali).

Jetstar's check-in times and flight schedules will remain unchanged at Suvarnabhumi Airport.