By SUCHAT SRITAMA
THE SUNDAY NAT
Warn move will tarnish image of country; call for long-term plans
AIRLINES ARE alarmed by the Transport Ministry’s move to consider limiting incoming flights by ending the country’s long-standing “open sky” policy, warning the move could badly damage Thailand’s image.
The airlines also urged the government to draft a long-term plan to solve airspace problems rather than restricting the number of international flights as the open-sky policy had been in force for more than 10 years.
Santisuk Klongchaiya, director of commercial at Thai AirAsia, said numerous airlines operated in and out of Thailand under an open sky agreement – the same as many other countries.
However, he said the open-sky policy may not allow every airline to operate as required due to limitations in airport capacities.
“Despite having an open-sky policy, if an airport has no more space for new airline to get air slots, that means traffic is full and already limited,” said Santisuk.
He added that the increase in flights at Suvarnabhumi Airport and Don Mueang Airport was not linked to the current aviation-safety issues facing the sector and the adoption of the open-sky policy.
Transport Minister ACM Prajin Juntong said on Friday that the ministry required the sound management of flight frequencies at airports and air traffic control.
He said Thailand’s major airports were too congested and that was compromising safety.
The open-sky policy began in 2001 and was aimed at increasing the number of flights into the country and by extension the number of tourists, and specify the capacity of each airport.
A proposal to move away from that policy is expected to be submitted to the Cabinet for approval by September.
Currently, more than 800 flights operate at Suvarnabhumi Airport per day, higher than its 600-flight capacity.
Phuket International Airport, the country’s second-busiest airport, was designed to handle 20 flights per hour but is servicing 23.
Thailand has also used the open-sky policy to promote the country as an aviation hub for the region. Since 2001, the number of domestic and international flights into the country has risen rapidly.
Suvarnabhumi, Bangkok’s main international airport and the country’s largest, has exceeded its capacity of 45 million passengers per year.
Piya Yodmani, chief executive officer of Nok Scoot, said airlines were confused by the plan to limit the number of international flights into the country.
Instead of scrapping the open-sky policy, he said “the government should prepare long-term measures to solve this problem”.
Piya warned that ending the policy would result in Thailand’s image being severely tarnished.
Charamporn Jotikasthira, president of Thai Airways International, refused to comment.
In March, the International Civil Aviation Organisation warned the Civil Aviation Department about its safety standards, which led Japan, South Korea, China and Singapore to restrict some routes for Thai carriers.