By SUCHAT SRITAMA,
Aviation authority warns of knock-on effects of situation not resolve immediately.
THAILAND’S TOP aviation regulator has expressed concern that the Nok Air crisis could hurt the overall airline industry if the situation is not brought under control quickly.
Chula Sukmanop, the acting director of the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT), said yesterday that authorities were closely watching the Nok Air |situation after more than 41 flights had been cancelled since February 14.
Yesterday, another four flights between Don Mueang International Airport and Chiang Mai were cancelled, while 20 were cancelled on Tuesday and another eight on Wednesday.
So far, Nok Air has been helped by six other airlines that have provided substitute flights for passengers on a charter basis.
As the regulator, CAAT is worried there could be more turbulence hitting the Thai airline sector if Nok Air does not resolve its shortage of pilots quickly.
On average, Nok Air operates a total of 100 domestic flights |daily.
The airline said it would have to reduce the number of flights by 20 per day until at least March 10 because of the shortage of pilots.
Another 17 pilots out of Nok Air’s total of 192 have tendered their resignations effective on March 1, posing a new challenge for the airline.
Chula said the latest round of resignations followed the airline’s internal restructuring of its flight operations.
Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said Nok Air was still in the process of tackling its internal management problems concerning the shortage of pilots.
Thai Airways International, Thai Smile, Thai Lion Air, Thai AirAsia, Thai Viet Air and Nok Scoot have provided chartered flights to substitute for Nok Air’s services.
Arkhom said Nok Air had also recruited another 15 pilots, including 10 from the United States.
The CAAT is investigating Nok Air’s February 14 crisis when nine flights were cancelled abruptly resulting in more than 1,400 passengers being stranded at Don Mueang Airport.
Despite the crisis facing the company, Patee Sarasin, the airline’s chief executive officer, remains optimistic, saying on Twitter that Nok Air would come back with a better service.
“This is what you call a ‘growing pain’. We will be back better for |our team, our company and shareholders. And of course for our customers.”
Sithichai Duangrattanachaya, an analyst at Maybank Kim Eng Securities (Thailand), said more pilots were expected to quit because of Nok Air’s ongoing difficulties.
Recruiting 20 to 30 new pilots will be a challenge given the current situation, he said, adding that |Nok Air may have to offer exceptionally high benefits to attract new people.
Sanong Mingcharoen, president of the Thai Pilots Association, said Thailand had about 6,000 pilots working for commercial airlines, including about 1,300 at THAI, about 500 at Thai AirAsia, about 300 at Bangkok Airways and about 200 at Thai Smile.
Currently, there are about 300 to 400 pilots entering the labour force each year but the supply is still not sufficient because of rapid expansion of the airline industry.
Sanong said the government should extend the retirement age for pilots at THAI and Thai Smile from 60 to 65 years to ease the shortage, while cautioning about the hiring of under-qualified foreign pilots.