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National image gets blurred

Friday,  Sep 12,2008,11:20 (GMT+7)
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National image gets blurred

By Son Nguyen in HCMC

If the gateway to a country is seen the first national image, then many stories front-paged on the local media these days about the leaky roof at Noi Bai Airport Terminal T1 have shown how that first image has been tainted and blurred. And it has been blurred for long.

Scores of news stories have depicted how numerous pots and buckets have been being used to contain rainwater leaking from the roof of the terminal, which gives a real bad impression on international visitors to the country. The real problem does not lie in the leaky roof itself, as it is a possible incident to any construction project, including ones of national scale like Noi Bai International Airport. What is really annoying is that the situation has been dragging on for three years now, without the least effort to fix up the problem, so to say.

Vị trí đặt quảng cáoFor three years, people at the airport have days in days out resorted to the pots-and-buckets solution when it rains, failing to pinpoint the real reason behind. For more than one thousand days, visitors have repeatedly witnessed the clumsy scene inside the terminal, which is sarcastically referred to by Tuoi Tre as the art of installation. And after all, the director of Noi Bai Airport Terminal Exploitation Center, Le Khac Hong, says it will take at least until the end of this year to get rid of the problem, as covered by Tien Phong.

The terminal was put to use in October 2001, considered then as one of the most modern airport terminals in the region. Years later, the quality has tested negative, as cracks developed on the concrete part of the roof more than three years ago, allowing rainwater to run through, while the metal-sheet and the glass sections of the roof also failed the weather soon after, says Hong on Tien Phong.

So what is the main cause behind the problem?

In an interview with Tuoi Tre, director Le Khac Hong says it is the durability of materials that is to blame, not the defect in designing the building. In another talk with Nguoi Lao Dong, Hong says “the phenomenon (the leaky roof) is normal, as the building has been put to use for eight years now.”

But Nguyen Tan Van, chairman of the Vietnam Architects Association, points the accusing finger at Hong’s center, saying it is “due to poor maintenance and operation of the terminal” on the part of the user, says Nguoi Lao Dong.

“It is unacceptable to have a leaky terminal at an international airport. The problem is simple, but they are clumsy in finding out a solution, without consulting the experts,” says Van, who is former deputy minister of construction.
Luong Anh Dung, the architect that designed the terminal, blames the project owner for the problem. The project owner has acquired building materials on their own, without consulting the designer, he says on Nguoi Lao Dong.

Furthermore, Dung comments, for long-term utility, maintenance is imperative, but the project owner does not have a plan for this, but only cares about how to make the most of the building.

According to the newspaper, it is the reduction in the project cost that forced the project owner to acquire substandard materials. Initially, the cost estimated was put at US$160 million, but the estimate was later reduced to US$110 million, and finally, the total cost approved was only US$72 million.

Former general director of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam Nguyen Hong Nhi, who used to be an advisor to the building project, also concedes on VnExpress that it was the cost-saving approach that leads to today’s problem. Lack of funds for construction and acquisition of equipments has resulted in problems for the building right from the start, including the poor quality of design.

To fix up the problem, Hong of Noi Bai Airport Terminal Exploitation Center says new materials will be used to replace the damaged roof sections, and if all things go smoothly, the situation will be remedied no sooner than the end of this year.

However, some other high-profile experts say more radical measures are needed, including the replacement of the whole building.

Tran Chung, former general director of the State Appraisal Bureau for Construction Projects under the Ministry of Construction, says the first thing to do is to pinpoint the key reason behind the problem before mapping out a fully-fledged solution. “Otherwise, patchy solutions will not address the situation,” he is quoted by Tuoi Tre as saying.

Former general director of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam Nguyen Hong Nhi, meanwhile, goes to greater lengths, saying the best way is to get rid of the whole building.

“I think that for a project with a sophisticated but not suitable design like Noi Bai Terminal, the best way is to tear it down and build a new one… as the expenses for repairs will be costly but not efficient,” says VnExpress.

The problem with Noi Bai Terminal will sooner or later be sorted out, although it has cast shadow on the image and prestige of the country. The real problem for the country is how to ensure long-term quality for construction projects, especially those of great national importance. On Tien Phong Online, after commenting on the poor quality of equipments and devices in Noi Bai Terminal, a reader ponders whether the developer of the terminal only took in a five-year view when constructing the building, leaving the aftermath for the next generation.

The Saigon Times Daily

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