The airports will be put up for auction to select qualified private operators in the government's lastditch effort to make money from the facilities.Directorgeneral Wuthichai Singhamanee yesterday said that initially the airports would be placed into three categories, with the combined revenue of those in each group being competitive overall with a view to attracting attention from private operators."Each group contains profitmaking and lossmaking airports. It is certain that if we put lossmaking airports up for auction [on their own], they would not attract any interest. We have therefore opted to mix them in three groups. If this still fails to draw private operators, we may cancel the auction plan and instead set up an enterprise to manage the airports," he said.Wuthichai said the financial position of the various airports had not shown any improvement, especially after the recent political turbulence which led to a sharp drop in passenger numbers. Coupled with the low season, flight frequency to and from the 28 airports has dropped 2030 per cent from the same period last year, he added.Until now, the airports have been categorised into four groups based on their financial performance. The first group contains six highpotential airports that handle more than 300,000 passengers per annum: Udon Thani, Ubon Ratchathani, Khon Kaen, Surat Thani, Krabi and Nakhon Si Thammarat. The second group contains four airports with medium potential, with passengers numbering between 50,000 and 300,000 per year. They are the airports in Mae Hong Son, Phitsanulok, Trang and Narathiwat. In the third group thanks to some commercial flights are nine airports, in Sakhon Nakhon, Roi Et, Nakhon Phanom, Buri Ram, Pai, Nan, Lampang, Hua Hin and Ranong. The last group contains nine airports that offer no commercial services.They are in Nakhon Ratchasima, Loei, Mae Sod, Tak, Mae Sariang, Phrae, Phetchabun, Chumphon and Pattani.The Civil Aviation Department's regrouping took place after its committee, chaired by Transport Ministry deputy permanent secretary Aram Kornsombut, studied the relevant legislation and concluded that the department could welcome private operators. The study followed Bangkok Airways having indicated its willingness to manage the national airports.Aram recently said that under the civil aviation law, there was no rule prohibiting airlines from operating airports. If Bangkok Airways is serious about operating all 28 airports, the department will need to launch a comprehensive evaluation of the facilities' assets. If any is valued at more than Bt1 billion, the carrier will need to sign a contract under the PublicPrivate Joint Venture Act BE2535.