BANGKOK (Reuters) - The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has warned that Bangkok's main Suvarnabhumi Airport is a safety risk, with "serious" overcrowding soon to become a critical issue, and urgent expansion needed, the Nation daily reported on Friday.
Thailand is under pressure to improve its aviation standards after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration downgraded the country's safety ratings in December last year.
"There are also safety concerns on the airport's tarmac, taxiways and apron area because of soft spots," IATA director-general and chief executive officer Tony Tyler said.
"Aircraft get stuck in the soft surface due to substandard materials," he told the newspaper in an interview in Bangkok, after returning from the Singapore Airshow.
Thailand's aviation industry is under scrutiny after the U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) downgraded the country in June 2015, giving it a red flag for missing a deadline to tackle safety concerns.
This week, the Thai civil aviation authority said a review by ICAO was likely to be delayed until early 2017 because it needed more time to improve the qualification of Thai auditors.
Tyler said the airport, which handles 52 million passengers each year, had a significant regional and global role but needed urgent expansion of its terminal capacity, the Nation said.
"It was designed to handle 45 million passengers annually, but it exceeds that today and traffic is still growing at an annual 10 percent rate," he said.
"Overcrowding is a serious issue that will become critical quickly," Tyler said.
The IATA represents almost 260 airlines, accounting for 83 percent of global air traffic.
Thai airport operator Airports of Thailand said it was aware of the problems flagged by IATA and has readied several measures to improve runways using concrete and expand capacity, which are awaiting government approval.
"We have prepared short- to medium- and long-term plans to solve the problems," Sirote Duangratana, general manager of Suvarnabhumi Airport, told Reuters.
(Reporting by Khettiya Jittapong and Manunphattr Dhanananphorn; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)