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Airlines

UPDATE 2-Cargo flights resume from Bangkok intl airport

(Adds cargo flight leaves, no passenger flights until Dec. 15)

BANGKOK, Dec 2 (Reuters) - A cargo plane operated by K-Mile Air left Bangkok’s besieged Suvarnabhumi airport on Tuesday, the first to take off from the terminal since anti-government protesters shut it down a week ago, a cargo sector official said.

The Boeing-727 aircraft owned by K-Mile Air, a unit of Kuala Lumpur-based Transmile Group TMGB.KL, left for Hong Kong with assorted express cargo, Kasem Jariyawong, president of the Thai Airfreight Forwarders Association, said.

Two more cargo flights operated by Air Hongkong Ltd were scheduled to depart for Hong Kong later on Tuesday, he said.

A senior Suvarnabhumi airport official had said earlier cargo flights could resume as soon as shippers and airlines were ready. "I have authorised pure cargo flights to resume from 0900 hours (0200 GMT) this morning and it's up to them to start when they are ready," Serirat Prasutanond, managing director of Airports of Thailand PCL (AOT) AOT.BK, told Reuters.

He said passenger flights would not restart until anti-government protesters had ended their sit-in, which had halted all passenger and cargo flights for the past week. “Passengers’ safety comes first,” he said.

Later he said in a statement that the airport would remain closed to passenger flights until Dec. 15. [nBKK408499]

The cargo flights were scheduled after a meeting between the Transport Ministry and private businesses on Monday, said Kasem of the forwarders association, adding he did not expect the protesters to block these flights.

Kasem said container trucks could enter the airport through an entrance not blocked by the protesters.

Asian carriers such as Singapore Airlines SIAL.SI, Cathay Pacific 0293.HK, Qantas QAN.AX and Malaysian Airline Systems MASM.KL, would soon resume cargo flights, he said.

“The cargo planes are ready but shippers need time to repack their cargoes, which have earlier been moved out of the airport after they were delayed by the protest. It takes time to truck them back there,” he said.

Serirat said cargo flights would continue as long as there was no disruption from protesters.

NOT ANTI-BUSINESS

A prolonged closure of the $4 billion Suvarnabhumi airport, a major Asian hub that can handle 3 million tonnes of cargo a year, would do huge damage to the export-driven Thai economy, which is already struggling to cope with a global slowdown.

The protesters of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) see the airport disruption as a way of toppling the government, which they say is a front for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was removed by the military in September 2006.

Current Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and other cabinet ministers will have to step down as a result of a court verdict on Tuesday, which found three ruling parties guilty of electoral fraud and said they must disband, but Thaksin allies are likely to form the next government. [ID:nSP131986]

However, Kasem was optimistic cargo would not be blocked.

“This is a window left open and there is no reason for protesters to block it. The PAD has said it is not against private business,” he said.

Kasem said earlier that around 1,500 tonnes of cargo worth some 3 billion baht ($85 million) left the airport each day. Some 600-700 tonnes was perishable goods such as food and flowers. The rest was mostly electronics and computer parts, plus jewellery.

Another 1,000 tonnes of inbound cargo and 600 tonnes of transit cargo also go through Suvarnabhumi each day. After the airport was shut, some cargo firms moved their goods out of Suvarnabhumi by truck and through the south to Malaysia, where they were airlifted from Kuala Lumpur. Some were also sent by sea to Singapore and then flown out from there. ($1 = 35.71 baht) (Editing by Alan Raybould)

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