“Running Suvarnabhumi Isn’t Just About Business—We Are the Gateway for Tourism”
With a firm hand, AOT’s new GM is putting a female touch on the largest airport operation in the country.
By Laurence Civil
She was born at Don Muang Royal Thai Air Force Base. Her father was a fighter pilot, and she spent her childhood surrounded by planes. After graduation she had ambitions of being an airhostess, but friends of her father’s saw opportunities in the building of the passenger terminal, Bangkok’s first civilian airport. Rawewan Netrakavesna was a pioneer in the transfer of flight operations from the Royal Thai Air Force to the newly formed Airports Authority of Thailand (AOT). Thirty-five years ago, her first job at Don Muang was working with a small team of young women at the information desk and handling VIPs. Today she is general manager of Suvarnabhumi International Airport, a 24/7 operation that employs100,000 people.
“Before taking up this role I was general manager of Chiang Mai International Airport, and the first woman to be appointed to the role,” she says. “For me that was the perfect job: 18-hour flight operations job, shutting down overnight. I was happy. I loved being in the north, and that was where I graduated. When my bosses asked if I would be interested in being nominated for this role, I said no. Leave me where I am, and I will get you five million passengers using Chiang Mai international Airport. I achieved what I promised, so they moved me here—a job I never expected that I would be doing.”
“While in Chiang Mai, I realized that the gray airport building needed green areas to make it more pleasing to the passenger,” she says. “We won awards based on the airport ambience. When I arrived at Suvarnabhumi, I felt the ambiance here needed to be the same type of thing. It may be because I am a woman, but I wanted to bring a different way of looking at life at the airport. Fresh-cut flowers, while attractive, would be too static. I wanted something living, and the horizontal wall gave back more floor space while creating more oxygen and a better quality of life.
The vertical gardens are in three locations around the passenger terminal, 89 square meters at Gate 1, and 47 square meters at both gates 3 and 8. The vertical garden wall is made up of a series of small plant-holding drawers which can be easily changed. The mood reflects special events through the year, such as Valentine’s Day, Loy Krathong, Christmas, and New Year’s. The color theme of the leaves is changed every four months.
“It’s not an essential part of the airport operation,” she says. “I see it as our ethical responsibility, and I hope that others in AOT will share my way of thinking.”
“Cycling has become a popular sport in Thailand,” she explains. “The chairman of the board of AOT asked me to address the issue of creating a cycling lane on the site of the former access road, which was used in the construction of the airport but is no longer used. I handed the project to our engineering departments. Their research—drawn from the ‘Guide to Bikeways, Pavement, Design, Construction and Maintenance for South Australia’—discovered the ideal surface was a combination of rubber composite with asphalt.
“The track is 23.5 kilometers long, 4.8 meters wide, built at a cost of THB 28.5 million. It’s open daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., free of charge. We colored the track green to increase visibility, as there is no means of electricity in the area. During the week, we receive an average of 200 cyclists a day, and this increases to 2,000 on weekends and public holidays, with as many as 1,200 on the track at peak times, between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Restrooms and a rest area with refreshments are available.
“After nine months in office, we managed to convince the airlines to move their ticketing counters to the sixth floor to give more much-needed space back to the passengers on the departure concourse,” she says. “I am the fifth general manager, and finally it happened.”
“My term of duty ends in September,” she adds. “I am a hyperactive, a childless widow. To do nothing would bore me. I like to be clear and quick in the way I work. I would like to drop to four days a week, just eight hours a day. Running Suvarnabhumi isn’t just about business—we are the gateway for tourism.
“I have enjoyed my last year working here, I enjoy work. I am flexible and negotiate to find solutions.
“People need to learn from their mistakes. The second time they make the same mistake, I give them a yellow card. If you make the same mistake three times, don’t expect to stay on my team.
“I had glass panels put in my office door so that I can see out, and my team can see in. My door, my phone, and even online chat are open as are all lines of communication.”