Plane Spotting at Don Mueang Airport

It has been a while since I’ve shared some aviation porn, so thought I would post pictures from my trip to Mae Sot, Thailand last December. I flew from Don Mueang Airport (DMK) in Bangkok, the older of the city’s two airports.


Originally reopened as a domestic-only airport, DMK was served primarily by Nok Air and Orient Thai airlines. For some sections of the city, it is more easily accessible than the new airport, although from where I live, it is equally far.


“Nok” means “bird” in Thai and this airline (with its colorful Boeing 737s) flies domestic routes and is half-owned by THAI Airways International, the country’s flag carrier.


Airports of Thailand, the organization that runs the major airports, eventually decided to open DMK for international traffic, too, as a reliever to the newer airport, Suvarnabhumi, which despite opening just over seven years ago, long ago reached its design capacity. With that, Air Asia relocated its operations to DMK.



Nok and Air Asia (which actually is a conglomeration of separate airlines operating under a common brand name) now provide the majority of service to DMK and Nok has recently added a limited number of international destinations.



One very recent addition to Thailand’s crowded “low cost carrier” scene is Thai Lion Air. Just in the same way that Air Asia is a group of separate but related airlines, Thai Lion Air is the second affiliate for Indonesia-based Lion Air. They are operating brand new Boeing B737-900ER “extended range” aircraft and flying to Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur internationally and Chiang Mai domestically. Their plan is to expand rapidly, which should provide the traveling public with downwards pressure on already low ticket prices.



My flight was on a “Nok Mini” Saab 340. While branded as Nok Air, these mini flights are operated by Siam General Aviation. Some people don’t enjoy flying turboprops, I think they are fun and feel more like the “good old days” of early aviation. The plane is actually very stable and given that the flights are usually no longer than an hour, the seats are comfortable enough. The only challenge is the lavatory, which is tiny!

P1280066DMK is also the repository for a variety of oddball aircraft and airlines. Here is a row of airplanes in various stages of their lives. The Orient Thai B747-300 in the front and their Boeing 767 just beyond may still be used for some charter flights in the middle east, but the THAI Airways jets to the right have been pulled from service and are awaiting either buyers or scrapping. On the distance on the left are two City Airways Boeing 737s, part of an obscure charter airline that mostly runs flights to China.



Another Boeing 737 operating under the City Airways name, although I’m sure many people would recognize the US Airways color scheme that still covers the plane. The interesting thing to notice is that on the very rear of the tail, the flag on the US Airways’ logo has not been painted over. This is because it lies on the rudder, the movable fin that controls the aircraft’s yaw. It is so finely balanced that adding a layer of paint over the logo would throw it out of balance, so a slap-dash paint job cannot be done.

P1280072A shot of the cockpit of my Saab 340 upon arrival at Mae Sot airport.

P1280074And a final shot on the tarmac at Mae Sot, of the Nok Mini Saab 340 against the setting Winter sun. Hope you enjoyed the photos. Food will return soon!


Back to Terminal One at Don Mueang

Festive decorations celebrate the reopening of Terminal 1

We traveled to Chiang Mai by air, flying Nok Air from Don Mueang Airport.  Until September 2005, Don Mueang was Bangkok’s sole airport.  After the opening of Suvarnabhumi International Airport, operations at Don Mueang are now limited to three domestic carriers and certain military, diplomatic, private, and charter flights.  Everything else operates from Suvarnabhumi.

Just outside the security area there is a great deal of empty space.

Three days before our departure, Airports of Thailand, the publicly-traded company that operates Don Mueang, Suvarnabhumi, and four other Thai airports, switched operations at Don Mueang from the domestic terminal to international terminal #1.  The reasoning for this seems a bit unclear, as AOT’s own announcement projected traffic at Don Mueang to reach just under 4 million passengers this year, well below the old domestic terminal’s capacity of 11 million.  Terminal 1 has a stated capacity of 16 million.

Scattered passengers inside the secured area with a sign for the sole restaurant: Burger King.

The physical space has increased from just under 42,000 square meters to almost 60,000.  While AOT claims to have spent a significant sum preparing for the reopening of Terminal 1, the interior remains very shabby and quite forlorn.  Instead of operating from one pier, there are now two piers in operation, resulting in a very long walk between gate areas.  Thankfully, most passengers at this airport are not connecting but are instead ending their flights here in Bangkok.

The two major airlines at Don Mueang – Orient Thai and Nok Air – are visible in the background.

The budget for decorations must have been extraordinarily low as AOT staff have hung balloons and made this “getaway island” display that looks borrowed from a secondary school prom.  The one thing that seems to be working well, perhaps even too well, is the air conditioning.  The gate areas were chilly.  Shopping facilities inside the secured area are limited with only one restaurant and, in the former THAI Airways Royal Orchid Lounge, a massage parlor.

Orient Thai Boeing 737 waiting to enter service.

Orient Thai, formerly known as “One Two Go”, seems to have acquired a Boeing 737-400 for its fleet.  Sure enough, three days later I read in the paper that they are phasing out their MD-80s in favor of the 737s, which despite having fuel-saving winglets installed are twenty-year-old technology.  Besides Orient Thai and Nok Air, the other airline operating from Don Mueang is Solar Air, a small prop-jet operation.

Nok Air Boeing 737 pulls into gate 35 at Don Mueang.

Our jet, a Nok Air Boeing 737-400, pulls into the gate.  The airline recently announced plans to introduce an updated version of these jets, the -800 model, this year.  “Nok” means “bird” in Thai, so each of the planes is painted to look like a bird with a playful beak painted on the nose.  THAI Airways International owns 39% of Nok Air and, ostensibly, Nok Air is the lower cost feeder carrier for THAI, taking over most of the larger carrier’s domestic routes.  There has been, however, considerable friction between the two airlines and THAI has indicated plans to create its own low-cost operation separate from Nok.

When’s the last time you received a free snack on a domestic US airline flight?

Nok Air is actually a decent enough airline.  It features assigned seats, free checked baggage, and snacks on the flights, things the largest domestic airline, Thai Air Asia, does not offer.  On our flight up to Chiang Mai, we received this Nok Bag with an Auntie Anne’s chocolate pretzel stick and a container of water.  On the way back to Bangkok, the Nok Bag contained some coconut cake.  Not bad for an hour-long flight!

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon in an overcast and slightly drizzly Chiang Mai for four days of relaxation.  More about that soon.