Delays ensure the real launch for Bangkok's showcase is still months off The flight was little more than a quick loop around central Thailand, but when the Thai Airways Airbus touched down at Bangkok's new Suvarnabhumi airport yesterday, it ended a journey that has spanned five decades and US$3.7 billion. Aboard the A340-600 for the symbolic first flight to touch down at the new airport were Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and more than 200 guests. The airport, in the works since the 1960s, still is not finished, and a string of costly overruns and corruption scandals have pushed back its commercial launch to next year at the earliest. But Mr Thaksin had previously vowed that it would open on time - by September 2005 - to become a symbol of Thailand's economic expansion and aspiration to be an aviation hub. So yesterday he boarded Thai Airways TG8960, a one-off inaugural flight, at Don Muang, Bangkok's existing airport. Forty minutes later, at the auspicious time of 0919, his flight landed at the shiny-new facility east of the city. The trip was billed as the airport's first technical flight, even though systems testing - which normally begins six months before opening - has yet to start. Thousands of state officials and hundreds of journalists were on hand to hear Mr Thaksin praise the airport, a soaring glass-and-steel construction with the world's tallest control tower and a pair of 4km-long runways designed for the new generation of super-carriers such as the Airbus A380. Immigration and check-in staff stood on duty and baggage carousels carried dummy orange and green suitcases, all part of a public-relations effort to showcase the airport. Mr Thaksin repeated his pledge to get the job done on time. 'Today I'm even more confident than before that we will be able to open commercially the airport in June 2006,' he said. Suvarnabhumi ('Golden Land') International Airport is designed to accommodate 45 million passengers a year in its initial phase, rising to 100 million at maximum capacity. Don Muang handled 38 million last year, putting it above regional rivals Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, but it has no more room to grow. International airlines are fuming over the opaque business plan for the new airport, saying the Thai government is not listening to their recommendations. Some warn that landing costs must be kept down if Bangkok wants to succeed as a regional hub by taking business from other competitors. 'Who is going to pay for the new airport?' asked Brian Sinclair-Thompson, Thai representative for Swiss International Airlines. 'Most of the answers to our questions are coming through the press ... it all smacks of a lack of consultation.' The International Air Transport Association, representing the airline industry, has been unable to press its case with airport authorities because government officials say they are too busy to meet. Mr Thaksin brushed aside the question of consultation, saying the association would be invited to inspect the airport closer to the commercial launch. Association officials say Suvarnabhumi, despite the overruns, has great potential. 'This airport has the chance to become a world-class airport, as good as Hong Kong, as good as Singapore,' said David Inglis, an airport development expert.