DALLAS – For over a century, Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport (DMK) has seen aircraft take off and land like no other airport in Asia.
It has served as an aerodrome during periods of war that often suffered heavy bombardment and was briefly left to rot. This was followed by worsening political instability and airport closures. But amidst it all, Don Mueang managed to pull through and remains one of the most active international airports in the present day.
Setup and Early Days
Built in 1914, Don Mueang was opened just five years after the world’s oldest operating airport, Maryland’s College Park Airport, in the United States (CGS) which opened in 1909. But surprisingly, Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport was actually the second airport in Thailand—the first was a nearby airfield called Sa Pathum, which is now a horse racing course.
On March 8, 1914, the first flight to Don Mueang was made by the Royal Thai Air Force. Although commercial flights started to operate out of Don Mueang in 1924, of which KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (KL) was the first, during the World War ll phase, the airfield was occupied and operated by the Japanese and severely bombed by the allied forces.
Post-war the airfield was back in the hands of the RAF of Thailand, and throughout the Vietnam War, Don Mueang served as a major command and logistics hub for the USAF to shuttle equipment and soldiers.
The Commercial Era
Over the years it became one of the key gateways to Asia and Thailand of course. All heavy jets could be spotted wearing various flags from all over the globe. It was as busy as it got, traffic was just shy of Hong Kong’s then Kai Tak.
Don Mueang was closed commercially in September 2006, as the new Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) opened in Bangkok, but it continued to be used for charter flights and also as an aircraft maintenance center. The airport was reopened the following year to take some passengers as BKK faced crack runway repairs. Before it shut down, it was the 18th-busiest airport in the world and the second busiest in Asia by passenger volume. At its peak, over 80 different airlines were welcomed.
Until Bangkok’s larger and newer Suvarnabhumi opened, Don Mueang held the code of BKK and thereafter went as DMK.
In 2011, it faced one of its worst nightmares, a devastating flood struck the airport. The entire ground floor was completely submerged. “I didn’t think I’d live to see the day when Don Mueang was almost drowned,” stated Mr. Chaturong Kapon, General Manager of DMK.
The airport was shut down for nearly a year, only to fully reopen due to demand in 2012.
A Golf Course inside the Airport?
The Kantarat Golf Course is one of the most fascinating in the world—it’s located inside Don Muang Airport right in between the two parallel runways. There are 18 holes in total on a straight course, the first nine in the take-off direction and the remaining nine in the landing direction.
The course width was quite narrow; if the ball didn’t go straight, it was a lost ball that could have perhaps entered the flight path of a Boeing 747. it really is a plane spotter’s dream with the big birds just 20 yards away.
It features two near-parallel runways, 21R/03L – 3,700 meters long, 60 meters wide, and Runway 21L/03R – 3,500 meters long, 45 meters wide. Just before the pandemic broke out, the airport reached its near-maximum capacity of 52 flights per hour or about 700–800 flights per day.
Passenger capacity was nearly 10 million more than the terminal was capable of holding, and building an additional runway and terminal was not an option. AoT encouraged airlines to use wide-body aircraft at Don Mueang to increase passenger loads from 100 to 200 passengers to about 300 per aircraft.
Having endured 108 years of service, DMK is Asia’s oldest active airport with a lot more left to give. It serves as the hub and home base to Thai AirAsia (FD), Thai AirAsia X, Thai Lion Air (SL), and Nok Air (DD) with the most frequent flights to Chiang Mai (CNX) and Phuket (HKT) on the domestic side and, Kuala Lumpur (KUL) and Singapore Changi (SIN) internationally.
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