Thursday, March 6, 2008

Foreign commercial pilots to face tougher scrutiny

BOONSONG KOSITCHOTETHANA
Foreign commercial pilots will face tougher scrutiny if they want to work for airlines and civil air service providers based in Thailand.
The new regulations are meant to prevent less qualified pilots from working for any Thailand-based air service providers as well as flying private aircraft as part of a new bid to improve flight safety.
The regulation, prepared by the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), will be published as a royal decree no later than 90 days from now. It was prompted by recent serious incidents in Thai skies that involved foreign pilots.
On Sept 16 last year, the budget carrier One-Two-Go Airlines' MD-82 jetliner went down in strong winds and heavy rain after attempting to land at Phuket Airport. The crash left 89 dead and 41 injured. On Dec 15, an MD-80 flown by One-Two-Go was in a ''near-collision'' with Nok Airlines' Boeing 737-400 over Nakhon Sawan.
All of One-Two-Go's pilots were recruited from overseas. Many of them were from Indonesia, where air safety records are among the world's worst.
According to DCA deputy director-general Wuthichai Singhamanee, foreign pilots will be required to learn about the Thai aviation laws. They will be tested on regulations and their ability to communicate well in the cockpit.
Authorities say foreign pilots must undergo Cockpit Crew Resource Management (CRM) training to overcome any possible cultural differences between them and those under their command.
The CRM requirement became essential after DCA found in its inspections that Thailand-based airlines that employ foreign pilots suffered from these problems, thus posing a potential danger.
Furthermore, pilot competency in flying certain aircraft would be subject to closer scrutiny by the DCA, which will no longer authorise permits by merely looking at documents submitted or matching them with licences issued by authorities in other countries.
This means that DCA officials would personally cross-check a pilot's competency in flying a certain aircraft in his last session on a flight simulator, Mr Wuthichai told the Bangkok Post.
The additional requirements are not unique. Aviation regulators in countries including India, China and Malaysia have also applied them to foreign pilots.
The new regulations are likely to affect three Thailand-based airlines _ One-Two-Go and its parent Orient Thai Airlines, as well as Phuket Airlines _ whose fleets are flown almost entirely by foreign pilots. Their pilots are Indonesians, Australians and Filipinos.
Airlines in Thailand use foreign pilots partly because of a shortage of Thai pilots trained to fly specific aircraft and partly because they are are cheaper to hire. Most Thailand-based airlines use Thai pilots. The cockpit staff of Thai Airways International, which numbers nearly 1,400, are exclusively Thai.
Thai pilots are not subject to the new DCA rules because they are all trained in Thai aviation law.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Controversy Over Second Samui Airport

Posted on: Monday, 3 March 2008, 18:00 CST

By Boonsong Kositchotethana, Bangkok Post, Thailand

Mar. 3--Renewed calls for a second airport on Koh Samui have raised a serious question about whether it's really needed.

The Tourism Promotion Association wants a second airport built on the island using taxpayers' funds, but the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) questions the plan and Bangkok Airways, which runs the existing airport, opposes it.

DCA director-general Chaisak Angkasuwan said there was probably no need to build another airport. It doubts the association's claims that the existing airport's capacity was not enough to cope with rising air traffic demand.

Mr Chaisak said the Feb 15 introduction of Thai Airways International's twice-daily services between Bangkok and Samui should have eased local political pressures and criticism of Bangkok Airways' monopoly over the lucrative route.

"The fact is that there are proponents and opponents on the island to the idea," the DCA chief said.

So it is crucial for people on Samui to ask themselves if the island can cope with more aircraft noise and the influx of mass tourism, which may harm its fragile environment and ruin the island's attractiveness, he warned.

Mr Chaisak said the new government had not pushed for a second airport or signalled any plan in that direction.

A proposal made by the government of deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra called for an airport capable of handling Airbus A320s and Boeing B737-400s. The price tag was more than one billion baht.

Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth, the founder of Bangkok Airways, which built the country's first civilian airport 21 years ago, opposed the idea of building a second airport with public funds.

He said the government would then be directly competing with private firms.

"To create a level playing field, the proposed second airport should be built and run by the private sector," he said, adding that he welcomed competition.

"The government wouldn't have to really worry about whether the investment will generate economic returns to make it viable," Dr Prasert said.

He cited five provincial airports that fall into this category: Nakhon Ratchasima, Buri Ram, Phetchabun, Loei and Chumphon. All built by the DCA, they have not been used by airlines for years.

Dr Prasert also questioned the need for a public hearing, which has been scheduled for March 10. He claimed the meeting indicated a foregone conclusion.

"Of course they would say yes as they do not really care if the undertaking is really viable," he said.

The existing capacity of Samui Airport was not an issue as local tourism groups claim, he added.

Following a 500-million-baht upgrade last year, Samui Airport is four times larger than the old one and capable of handling up to 16,000 passengers a day.

The airport handles 600,000 passengers a year, and could deal up to 1.6 million if environmental agencies eased restrictions, including flight curfews.

A maximum of 36 flights a day are currently allowed to operate through Samui airport between 6 am and 10 pm.