Thai Airport Turned Into Vaccination Center Amid Lack Of Passengers

Bangkok’s normally frenetic Suvarnabhumi International Airport is transforming into a COVID-19 vaccination hub. With flights and passenger numbers at a low ebb, the airport is re-inventing itself and in the process, generating some buzz back into the terminal.

Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport is transforming into a COVID-19 vaccination hub. Photo: Getty Images

All Suvarnabhumi airport workers in line for vaccination by the end of May

Healthcare workers have overtaken 42 check-in counters on the departures level of the airport and are vaccinating frontline workers, airport staff, immigration officers, and airline crew. Right now, the new facility is doing about 1,000 vaccinations per day.

In its first phase, the airport vaccination hub is eyeing vaccinating the 30,000 people who work in and around the airport. The plan is to have this done by the end of May. However, there is the capability to do more. It is one cog in Thailand’s plan to vaccinate 300,000 people per day. That would see the entire country fully vaccinated by the end of the year.

Bangkok’s gleaming Suvarnabhumi International Airport is usually one of the busiest airports in 2019. In the last year of normal travel, 2019, the airport handled 65,424,564 passengers. Normally, about 40 million tourists head to Thailand each year. Not all go through Suvarnabhumi International but a good portion do.

Suvarnabhumi vaccinations
The airport clinic is vaccinating around 1,000 people a day. Photo: Getty Images

Tourism accounts for around 13% of Thailand’s GDP but in March only 6,737 people entered Thailand. The Thai Government is keen to get the tourism sector up and running again.

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COVID-19 vaccination key to re-opening Thailand

The key to this is getting the bulk of Thailand’s population vaccinated against COVID-19. However, the Thai Government is being slow to start mass vaccinations and risks missing its vaccination goals.

In 2019, almost 100 airlines jetted into Suvarnabhumi International from all corners of the globe. Now, the airport is serviced by a handful of local and regional carriers. They offer a mix of mostly domestic and short to medium-haul international flights.

According to data published by Airports of Thailand, operator of Suvarnabhumi Airport, there were 498 international arrivals and 487 international departures at the airport across March 2021, or around 32 movements a day. In the same month, there were 1772 domestic departures and 1767 domestic arrivals, or an average of 114 daily aircraft movements.

Suvarnabhumi vaccinations
Workers in the aviation sector are being prioritized. Photo: Getty Images

Thailand’s airlines continue to struggle

Suvarnabhumi International Airport’s biggest airline customers are Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, and Thai Smile Airways. Of these three airlines, the highest profile is the embattled Thai Airways.

That airline is in a fight for survival and undergoing a court-supervised rehabilitation process akin to a US-style Chapter 11 bankruptcy process.  Last month, Simple Flying reported the airline was looking to lay off half its workers and eyeing downsizing its fleet, including trying to sell some A380s.

The airlines, Suvarnabhumi International Airport, and the Thai Government all have a vested interest in re-opening Thailand to travelers, rebooting the tourism industry, and pumping some much need revenue back into the economy.

But that’s imperiled by another wave of COVID-19 in Thailand. Reuters says 2,012 new cases were reported on Wednesday alone.

Meanwhile, Suvarnabhumi International Airport is doing what it can. While much of the terminal is shut due to lack of passenger traffic, getting airport and allied workers vaccinated is one step towards re-opening Thailand.