Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cambodian Air link to Russia likely


Embassy official expects direct flights to commence by 2011.
Cambodia hopes an open-skies agreement with Russia will help boost tourists at Angkor Wat and other attractions.

DIRECT flights between Russia and Cambodia are set to begin next year or 2011 at the latest, a Russian embassy official said Friday.

Delegates from the two largest Russian airlines will meet with Cambodian civil aviation authorities at the end of January in the hope of finalising an open-skies agreement between the two countries that has been in negotiation for two years, embassy councillor Dilyara Borovic said.

“When we reach the agreement, the Russian civil aviation will officially allow the two popular airlines to fly to both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap,” she said without naming them.

Russia’s two biggest airlines are Aeroflot Russian Airlines and S7 Airlines, according to Air Transport World’s Web site.

Borovic said it was hoped direct flights would begin this year, but admitted it may take until 2011 to complete the agreement and launch the routes.

The two airlines already service Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi in Vietnam directly from Russia, she said, adding that connecting flights from Vietnam to Cambodia would also be discussed in the future.

State Secretariat of Civil Aviation Cabinet Chief Long Chheng said the Kingdom supports the concept of direct routes, but is waiting for further details from the Russian foreign affairs ministry before committing to an open-skies deal.

“If we can negotiate direct flights with Russia, it will show the growing strength of our civil aviation,” he said.

Borovic said Southeast Asia is a growing destination for the 2 million Russians traveling abroad each year, placing Thailand as the second-most popular location for its tourists after Germany.

“If they can visit Thailand, why not Cambodia?” she said.

Visits from Russia reached 13,861 in the first 10 months of 2009, up from 12,885 during the same period last year, bucking an overall decline in arrivals by air, according figures from the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism.

In October, just 85,671 overseas visitors landed in the Kingdom’s airports, down 8 percent from 93,175 arrivals in the same month last year, the figures show.

Kong Sophearak, director of the Ministry of Tourism’s Statistics and Tourism Information Department, said the number of arrivals from Russia was low compared with other countries, but that direct flights would help to boost the tourism sector in Cambodia.

Cambodia’s State Secretaiat of Civil Aviation has this year inked direct-flight agreements with four countries, including Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and, most recently, the Philippines.

Under the terms of its agreement with the Philippines, up to seven flights a week originating from Cambodia are authorised to land at Manila, 14 in the Clark Freeport Zone and another 14 at any point in the Philippines outside the two aviation centres.

Cebu Pacific Air is expected to be the first Philippine carrier to begin flying direct to the Kingdom, with flights authorised to commence in March or April.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Budget airline to bring more South Koreans to Thailand

Seoul - A low-frills airline linking Seoul and Bangkok will boost South Korean tourist numbers in Thailand, a tourism official said Tuesday.

Budget carrier Jin Air Co, which is wholly owned by Korean Air launched its first international route on Monday, linking Incheon airport with Bangkok.

Jin Air plans to operate daily flights with a ticket price about 20 to 30 per cent below other airlines' rates.

The launch of Jin Air will help Thai efforts to promote Thailand as a major Asian destination for South Koreans, said Kim Jin Hee, a marketing manager of the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Seoul office.

Earlier this year, the swine-flu scare and reports of political protests have caused many South Koreans to postpone plans to visit Thailand.

'In recent months, however, South Koreans are beginning to take flight to Thailand, so we had a shortage of seats on the Incheon-Bangkok route in recent weeks,' she said. 'Therefore, we welcome Jin Air's launch to give us much-needed additional seats.'

She added that 1 million South Koreans usually visit Thailand each year.

Destination of Arms Seized by Thais Is a Mystery

Published: December 22, 2009

BANGKOK — Ten days after the Thai government announced that it had seized an aircraft carrying weapons from North Korea, the final destination and the buyer of the arms cache remains a mystery.

A research organization based in Belgium that specializes in the analysis of arms trafficking posted documents this week on its Web site that appear to show Iran as the drop-off point.

The lawyer for the five-man crew detained in Thailand maintains that the cargo was to be offloaded in Ukraine, and other experts said it was far too early to reach any conclusions, because documents are often forged and designed to deceive in the smoke-and-mirrors world of arms trafficking.

As the researchers point out, the documents are false in at least one key respect: They say that the cargo was oil-drilling equipment.

The report by the International Peace Information Service, the Belgian organization, said the flight plan of the Ilyushin-76 is consistent with the range and cruise speed of the aircraft. A copy of the documents are posted on their Web site. The report also includes copies of what the authors say are the aircraft’s charter agreement, the air waybill and the aircraft’s certificate of registration.

The report was written in collaboration with TransArms, a U.S.-based group based that researches arms shipments.

The documents appear to show that the flight was chartered early this month by Union Top Management Ltd., a company registered in Hong Kong that was set up in November.

The document is signed by Dario Cabreros, who is described as the company’s representative.

Somsak Saithong, the lawyer for the crew, said he had seen the documents but that his copy of the flight plan shows that the cargo was bound for Ukraine. “I can certify that Iran was not the final destination,” Mr. Somsak said in an interview.

The crew members are being held at a detention center here while the police conduct their investigation. They said in an interview last week that they had traveled the world on similar missions and that they rarely asked about the nature of the cargo they were carrying.

The Thai authorities have not offered more detail on the exact nature of the weapons seized and say they will destroy the arms after they take an inventory and report it to the United Nations Security Council.

But the Thai government also appears wary to investigate too deeply into to the arms shipment.

The deputy prime minister, Suthep Thaugsuban, said last week that the inquiry would not focus on where the weapons were headed. “Thai authorities will not pinpoint where the weapons were destined for delivery in order not to displease a certain country,” he was quoted as saying in the Thai media. He did not elaborate.

North Korean Arms Plane Creates Paper Trail to Hong Kong Firm

By Frederik Balfour

Dec. 22 (Bloomberg) -- The plane carrying 35 tons of North Korean weapons bound for Iran that was seized in Thailand this month was chartered by a Hong Kong-registered company set up in November, according to a report by arms-trafficking monitors.

Union Top Management Ltd. chartered the Ilyushin-76 aircraft from Auckland, New Zealand-based SP Trading on Dec. 4, documents obtained by analysts at Chicago-based TransArms and the International Peace Information Service, orIPIS, in Antwerp, Belgium, show. The plane was seized Dec. 12 when it stopped for fuel in Bangkok en route from Pyongyang to Tehran.

SP Trading leased the aircraft and crew from a Georgia- based carrier Air West, which operated it on behalf of an owner based in the United Arab Emirates, according to documents posted on the Web site of IPIS. The cargo was listed as “oil industry spare parts.”

“We know of no other charters they have made” by Union Top, Brian Johnson-Thomas, a consultant with IPIS, said by telephone from the United Kingdom today. “This company seems to have been formed and then organized this charter.”

Union Top was registered in Hong Kong on Nov. 2, according to the Hong Kong Companies Registry. The name was purchased from Acota Ltd. in Hong Kong, a firm that specializes in setting up local companies.

Dario Cabreros Garmendia, the director of Union Top whose signature is on the charter agreement, owns 99.99 percent of the company’s shares and is based in Barcelona, according to Hong Kong registry records. The Hong Kong company’s link to the North Korean weapons was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Neither Acota, nor R&G Management Consultancy, which filed the company registration documents on behalf of Union Top, had any telephone contacts for Garmendia.

Dead End

A message sent to the Union Top e-mail address provided by R&G was returned undelivered. The registered address for Union Top in Hong Kong is the same as Acota’s, which routinely provides virtual offices to its clients, often without meeting them.

“We don’t know who the clients are,” said Brenda Cheng, an officer at Acota, who confirmed her firm had worked on behalf of Union Top.

The role of Union Top in directing the flight via Thailand raised further questions, said Johnson-Thomas.

“If you wanted to make a clandestine flight from Pyongyang to Tehran you would go over Chinese and Mongolian airspace and then drop down through the Stans,” he said, referring to countries in central Asia. “To fly it through Bangkok, which is so well known for drugs smuggling, seems so damn stupid. For some reason Union Top Management insisted the flight had to go where it went.”

The plane was impounded under United Nations resolution 1874 passed in June, authorizing increased inspections of North Korean air or sea cargo suspected of containing material that could be used to develop nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles.

World air travel falls record 3.1%

World airline passenger traffic fell 3.1 percent in 2009, the biggest drop in aviation industry history, fueled by the global financial downturn, the International Civil Aviation Organization said.

Preliminary figures for airline travel this year showed that international traffic declined by about 3.9 percent and domestic traffic by 1.8 percent, despite sharp growth in some regions.

Total passenger traffic -- both domestic and international -- fell in all regions except the Middle East, which posted 10 percent growth. All other regions recorded negative growth, with Africa hardest hit at minus 9.6 percent overall, the ICAO said.

The 3.1 percent drop in passenger traffic this year compared to 2008 was the largest on record for the industry and "reflects the one percent drop in the world gross domestic product for the year," the organization said in a statement.

"The double-digit domestic passenger traffic growth in the emerging markets of Asia and Latin America, and the relative strong performance of low cost carriers in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific helped curtail the decline in total traffic."

The ICAO predicted a moderate recovery of 3.3 percent growth for the airline industry next year, in line with improving economic conditions around the world.

For 2011, it forecast momentum to build to return to the traditional 5.5 percent yearly growth rate in airline passenger traffic.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thailand 'Forced Plane Carrying N.Korean Arms to Land'

A Georgian cargo plane carrying North Korean weapons was not impounded in Thailand during a refueling stop, as previously believed, but was forced to land by fighter planes after it entered Thai airspace, the influential Russian daily Kommersant reported Thursday.

The Ilyushin Il-76 left Pyongyang on Dec. 12. The moment it entered Thai airspace, two Thai fighters on standby ordered it to land at Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok based on a tip-off from a foreign intelligence agency, the daily said.

The Thai government announced that the plane was impounded after it landed for refueling and checks of wheels and tires. The news suggests that the cargo plane, which was attempting to carry North Korean weapons to a foreign country in disregard of a UN embargo, was stopped in Thai airspace before it could proceed to a scheduled refueling stop to Sri Lanka.

Thai daily The Nation said that an English-language weapons manual was discovered in the process of checking the North Korean arms. There is speculation that the weapons might not have originated from North Korea, the daily added.

According to Thai law, the five crewmembers face a sentence between two years in jail and death depending on whether they were attempting to deliver the weapons to a war zone.

Thais: US tip led to seizure of arms from NKorea

(AP) –

BANGKOK — Thai authorities were acting on a tip from the United States when they seized tons of illicit weapons from a plane from North Korea, a senior official said Thursday.

The Ilyushin Il-76 transport plane was impounded Saturday in Bangkok during what officials said was a scheduled refueling stop. Thai authorities found a reported 35 tons of weaponry aboard it, all exported from North Korea in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

Speaking at a news conference, National Security Council chief Thawil Pliensri confirmed media reports that there had been U.S. assistance in the seizure, but gave no details.

He said that Thailand was waiting for advice from the United Nations on whether the weapons should be destroyed.

The U.N. sanctions — which ban North Korea from exporting any arms — were imposed in June after the reclusive communist regime conducted a nuclear test and test-fired missiles. They are aimed at derailing North Korea's nuclear weapons program, but also ban it from selling any conventional arms.

Thawil revealed little else new at his news conference, which seemed aimed at quashing some rumors. He denied that Thailand would receive a reward or bounty for the seizure, or that it was pressured to act, saying it took action "as a member of the world community."

He added, however, that Thailand would like to be compensated if possible by the U.N. for the cost of transporting the weapons, which were taken to an Air Force base in the nearby province of Nakhon Sawan.

It is still not known where the weapons — said to include explosives, rocket-propelled grenades, components for surface-to-air missiles and other armaments — were to be delivered. The plane's papers, which described its cargo as oil-drilling machinery, said the shipment was to be delivered to Sri Lanka.

Arms trade experts have speculated that the cargo may have been destined for conflict zones in Africa, Iran or Myanmar.

U.S. Treasury Department records show that the plane had previously been registered with firms controlled by suspected arms trafficker Russian Viktor Bout, who is currently being held in Thailand. The U.S. is trying to extradite him on terrorism charges. On Wednesday, he denied any involvement with the plane, according to Russian news agency ITAR-Tass, accusing the media of trying to influence the decision in his extradition hearing.

The crew — four from Kazakhstan and one from Belarus — have been jailed on illegal arms possession charges.

The wife of Mikail Petukhov — the Belarussian identified in Thai court documents — said he had served in the Soviet military and afterward took whatever job he could find. Vera Petukhova said her husband never knows who he'll be working with before going out on a job. A friend of Petukhov, 54, added that he also never knows what he'll be transporting.

"All the containers are sealed, and the captain only gets the printout of what is supposed to be inside them. But what's inside, that's a question for the people who load it onto the plane at the pick-up point," said Vladimir Migol, who also served in the Soviet air force and noted that many ex-service men struggled to find work after being discharged. Migol said while crew members such as Petukhov would never knowingly transport weapons, they are all aware of the risk but are usually desperate for jobs.

The plane was registered to Air West, a cargo transport company in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry said this week that the plane was leased to New Zealand company SP Trading Ltd.

Authorities in New Zealand are investigating, a spokesman for its Foreign Ministry, James Funnell said Thursday.

"We have always been staunch supporters of the sanctions regime imposed against North Korea," Funnell told The Associated Press. "So we're very concerned by these allegations and are inquiring into them."

SP Trading is listed in the government's register of companies as having offices in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, which names Lu Zhang as its director. The company's shares are held by nominee company VICAM (Auckland) Ltd. Listed phone numbers rang unanswered on Thursday.

Impoverished North Korea is believed to earn hundreds of millions of dollars every year by selling missiles, missile parts and other weapons to countries such as Iran, Syria and Myanmar.


Associated Press writer Simon Shuster contributed to this report from Kiev, Ukraine.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Plane seized by Thais linked to alleged smugglers


BANGKOK — A weapons-laden cargo plane impounded in Bangkok has links to at least two men accused of global arms trafficking, including one fighting extradition to the U.S. from Thailand, an analyst said Tuesday.

The five-man crew of the aircraft that arrived from North Korea — four from Kazakhstan and one from Belarus — have been charged with illegal arms possession and face up to 10 years in prison.

The men were being held at Bangkok's high-security Klong Prem Central Prison, the current home to suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, once dubbed the "Merchant of Death" for allegedly supplying weapons to dictators and warlords around the world.

Thai officials impounded the Ilyushin Il-76 transport plane when it landed in Bangkok on Saturday to refuel, and discovered what they said was 35 tons of explosives, rocket-propelled grenades, components for surface-to-air missiles and other armaments — exported in defiance of a U.N. embargo against North Korea.

Hugh Griffiths, a researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told The Associated Press the aircraft was previously registered under a company named Beibars, which has been linked to Serbian arms trafficker Tomislav Damnjanovic.

In the past, it has also been registered with three companies identified by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control as firms controlled by Bout. The U.S. is trying to extradite Bout, who was arrested in March 2008 during a U.S.-led sting operation and subsequently indicted on four terrorism charges in New York.

Researchers said the arms were likely destined for African rebel groups or a rogue regime such as Myanmar. The aircraft's documentation had falsely described its cargo as oil-drilling equipment, and declared it was bound for Sri Lanka. Thai officials are skeptical that that was the true destination.

Col. Supisarn Bhakdinarinath, head of the Thai police inspection team, estimated the value of the weapons at about 500-600 million baht ($15 million-18 million).

Supisarn said more serious charges, possibly carrying the death penalty, would be added because the haul included explosives.

Prison director Sopon Thititam-pruek said the crew members were being held in separate cells, and guards were keeping a close eye on them to prevent them from meeting Bout.

Griffiths said the past owners of the aircraft have been documented by the United Nations as trafficking arms to Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan and Chad. He said the plane also was used to ship arms from the Balkans to Burundi in October.

"They are like flocks of migrating birds, these aircraft. They change from one company to another because the previous company has either been closed down for safety reasons or been identified in a U.N. trafficking report," Griffiths said.

Siemon Wezeman, a Senior Fellow at SIPRI, said the types of arms found in the aircraft — used to add firepower against planes and tanks in the arsenal of government forces — were typical of those used by insurgent movements, and raised suspicion they could be headed for an African rebel group.

Possible buyers included Sudan, which might pass the weapons to rebel groups in Chad, and Eritrea, which might keep them for its own arsenal or pass them on to warring factions in Somalia, said Christian LeMiere, editor of the London-based Jane's Intelligence Weekly.

The United States, which is particularly concerned about North Korea selling weapons and nuclear technology in the Middle East, reportedly tipped off Thai authorities to the illicit cargo. The U.S. Embassy has declined to comment.

Impoverished North Korea is believed to earn hundreds of millions of dollars every year by selling missiles, missile parts and other weapons to countries such as Iran, Syria and Myanmar.

U.N. sanctions were imposed in June after the reclusive communist regime conducted a nuclear test and test-fired missiles. They are aimed at derailing North Korea's nuclear weapons program, but also ban North Korea's selling of any conventional arms.

Associated Press writers Grant Peck and Jane Fugal in Bangkok, Malin Rising in Stockholm, Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili in Tbilisi, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, and Foster Klug in Washington contributed to this report.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Crew of Detained Plane in Thailand Denies Knowledge of Arms


Thai security personnel surrounded a cargo plane that made an emergency landing in Bangkok on Saturday.

Published: December 13, 2009

BANGKOK — In their first interview since being detained by Thai authorities, the crew of a cargo aircraft traveling from North Koreasaid Sunday that they did not know they had been transporting an arsenal of rockets, grenade launchers and other unidentified weapons weighing at least 30 tons.


Thais Seize Plane With Weapons From N. Korea (December 13, 2009)

Times Topics: Thailand

Ilyas Issakov, center, captain of a cargo plane that was seized, has been accused of alleged arms trading. He was escorted by Thai policemen on Saturday in Bangkok.

“They said it was oil drilling equipment,” said Viktor Abdullayev, the plane’s co-pilot. “That’s what the manager told us,” he said referring to his employer, a civilian cargo company from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Officials in Thailand did little over the weekend to shed light on the perplexing seizure of the aircraft, offering only rudimentary details about the plane, its crew and its cargo.

The five-man crew is to be charged in court Monday with possession of weapons of war, in a case that may shed light on the shadowy business of global arms trafficking — and in North Korea’s role, in particular.

Thai authorities said the weapons were seized after a tip from American officials, and said the shipment appeared to violate a United Nations arms embargo but did not provide a detailed accounting of the armaments, which will undergo a more thorough inspection Tuesday.

Thailand was acting, it said, under United Nations Resolution 1874, which was passed in June in response to nuclear tests in North Korea. The resolution is effectively an arms embargo covering the transport of heavy weaponry to and from North Korea. Such weapons sales are one of the few ways the country has been able to earn foreign currency.

The resolution, which builds on a previous resolution from 2006, calls on countries to “inspect and destroy” certain categories of weapons bound to or from North Korea, including large-caliber artillery, missiles and missile spare parts.

No major seizures of weapons have been made public since the passage of the resolution. This summer, the United States Navy tracked a North Korean freighter suspected of carrying banned cargo for about three weeks, and the ship eventually turned back to its home port without incident.

Speaking in rudimentary English, Mr. Abdullayev and his colleagues said they started their current mission in Ukraine, picked up cargo in North Korea and were traveling back to Ukraine via Thailand, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates. They declined to say in which of those locations the cargo was meant to be delivered.

Mr. Abdullayev, who said he was from Kazakhstan, said it never occurred to him to inquire about the cargo. “I have no interest in what I carry,” he said. “Like a truck driver: just keep driving.”

Panitan Wattanayagorn, the Thai government spokesman, said in an interview that the aircraft, a Russian-made Ilyushin 76, which is registered in Georgia, had come through Bangkok twice — both on the way and during the return trip from North Korea. The aircraft was searched on the return journey after Thai authorities were tipped off by American officials that the aircraft might be carrying weapons. The crew was detained and the cargo confiscated but not immediately. The crew had enough time to buy six large bottles of beer at a duty-free shop, which were confiscated from them in the detention center where they are now being kept.

Mr. Panitan denied reports that the Friday stopover in Bangkok was an emergency landing.

“It was a scheduled landing to refuel the plane,” Mr. Panitan said.

Analysts have questioned why an aircraft carrying an illicit payload would land and refuel at an airfield in Bangkok — Don Muang airport — that is also used by the Thai military. The choice of Thailand as a refueling station is also peculiar considering the country’s close military ties with the United States.

“There’s much more to this story than what has been made public so far,” said Bertil Lintner, an author who has written extensively on North Korea. “Why would you refuel in Thailand?” If the aircraft had landed in neighboring Myanmar, which is ruled by generals friendly to the North Korean regime, “there would have been no problem,” Mr. Lintner said.

Among the many theories discussed on Thai Web sites and in the media here is that the Ilyushin was forced to land by the Thai air force as it crossed Thai airspace. In the interview the crew said they had landed in Bangkok to refuel.

Further details may emerge in the coming days as the cargo is examined and the crew members appear in court. The weapons have been transported to an air force base in central Thailand and will be more closely analyzed by experts on Tuesday, Mr. Panitan said.

Four of the crew members were from Kazakhstan, including the captain, Ilyas Issakov, Mr. Abdullayev, Alexandr Zrybney and Vtaliy Shurmnov, all co-pilots. Mikhail Prtkhou, a fourth co-pilot is from Belarus.

Mr. Issakov, the captain, said he had traveled to Thailand before for both business and pleasure.

All five men have been barred from making phone calls or reading newspapers. During the interview in a detention center late Sunday, Mr. Abdullayev requested help from a reporter to obtain a clothes iron because he said he wanted to appear presentable in court.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Thailand seizes 'arms plane flying from North Korea'

Thailand seizes 'arms plane flying from North Korea'

South Korean soldiers unload the plane at Bangkok airport
The Il-76 was unloaded by Thai soldiers

Thailand has seized a cargo plane refuelling in Bangkok airport, which it says was carrying weapons from North Korea to an unknown destination.

The five crew members were also detained.

Rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other weapons were found aboard, military investigators said.

It is believed that the plane had made an emergency request to refuel. It had taken off from the North Korean capital Pyongyang, the Thai Air Force said.

According to local media reports, four members of the crew are from Kazakhstan, and one from Belarus.

Thai officials said they had acted on a tip-off from foreign intelligence, with one official telling Reuters news agency, on condition of anonymity, that the US had supplied the information.

"It [the plane] came from North Korea and was heading for somewhere in South Asia, probably Pakistan," the same official added.

Another unconfirmed report suggested Sri Lanka as the destination.

Prize export

Local media say about 40 tons of weaponry were found aboard the chartered plane, a Soviet-designed Il-76.

Thain police escort away a man taken from the cargo plane in Bangkok airport, 12 December
The crew are said to have requested a translator from the Russian embassy

The reported items have been moved to a Thai military facility.

Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaungsuban said the crew had declared the cargo as "oil drilling equipment", according to AFP news agency.

"But when we examined, we found it was all weaponry," Mr Suthep, who is also in charge of national security, told reporters.

"This case will proceed carefully as there are many parties involved... Everything must proceed transparently."

The UN recently increased sanctions against North Korea in a bid to cut off its arms sales as punishment for a nuclear test in May.

Arms sales are a vital export item estimated to earn the destitute state more than $1bn (£615m) a year, analysts say.

The North's biggest arm sales come from ballistic missiles, with Iran and other Middle Eastern states being customers, according to US government officials.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Thai Aviation Dot Net

By bkkphotographer

Thai Aviation
I often see aircraft in Thailand and want to know their details. In the old days I bought annual books, for example the Ian Allanseries published in the UK. Now there are so many free resources available on the net, a frugal transport enthusiast does not need to buy them. I pity the poor specialist publisher.

I wrote recently about airfleets.net. it is excellent for airline fleet rosters worldwide. For Thai aviation I have found nothing better that http://thai-aviation.net/. In addition to a full historical Thai civil roster the site has lists of Thai military and government aircraft and helicopters. It also has listings of museum stock – useful for my visits to the Royal Thai Air Force Museum – and “wrecks and relics”.

I offered the site curator, Steve Darke, my photos of Thai helicopters taken from my apartment window and other interesting shots.

I put them in a Picasa Web album:

Thai Aviation

You can also see a slideshow athttp://sites.google.com/site/thebkkphotographer/home/thai-aviation.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Mother of detained Thai engineer arrives in Cambodia, verdict expected Tuesday

BANGKOK, Dec 7 (TNA) – The mother of the Thai employee detained in Cambodia on spy charges arrived in Cambodia ahead of the court ruling on the case expected on Tuesday.

Simarak Na Nakhon Panom was accompanied by Deputy Director General Madurapochana Ittarong of the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Department of Consular Affairs.

Mrs Simarak said that she hoped for a positive result from the Cambodian court ruling on the case of her son Siwarak Chutipong, but she is also prepared for a negative outcome.

She insisted that the decision to change lawyers was advised by Mr Siwarak’s friends in Cambodia and was not a political ‘game’ or ploy. The mother said she will do whatever she can to help her son as soon as possible. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs understood her position, she said, and didn’t blame her for not working with the lawyer selected by the ministry.

Meanwhile, Ms Madurapochana said the ministry continued providing assistance to help Mr Siwarak. She said she is due to meet the newly-appointed lawyer at the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh Monday afternoon.

The court is expected to deliver its verdict on Tuesday, she said, and if Mr Siwarak is found guilty, she will then talk to the lawyer to determine what to do next. She also asked permission for Mrs Simarak to visit her son on Monday but has not yet received an answer from the Khmer officials.

Opposition Puea Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit saw Mrs Simarak off at Suvarnabhumi Airport and showed her a draft of a letter by former prime minister Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to submit requesting a royal amnesty if her son is found guilty.

The draft will be considered in a Puea Thai meeting, first scrutinising legal details and then translating it into Khmer and English.

Mr Prompong said he showed her the draft letter to confirm that the Puea Thai party is sincerely ready to help and he believed the government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also giving her full support.

Mrs Simarak also asked Mr Prompong to contact ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra through his former legal advisor Noppadon Pattama to help her son.

Mr Siwarak, an employee of Cambodia Air Traffic Services (CATS), was arrested by Khmer police nearly a month ago on charges of passing information on the flight details of Mr Thaksin to Thai diplomats in Phnom Penh. (TNA)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo getting ready for test flights ahead of space tourism

Virgin Galactic's sub-orbital space plane, the SpaceShipTwo, is preparing for test flights – and Richard Branson's company hopes it will be taking tourists into space by 2012.

Virgin Galactic; Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo getting ready for test flights ahead of space tourism
The Virgin Galactic - Scaled Components SpaceShipTwo, which should launch in early 2010Photo: VIRGIN GALACTIC

For a mere $200,000 (£120,000), wealthy funseekers will be able to enjoy a few minutes' weightlessness, staring out at the curve of the Earth from under a black sky.

Currently in the final stages of construction, SpaceShipTwo is expected to make its first test flights in the early months of 2010.

A small, rocket-propelled, shuttle-like vehicle around the size of a light aircraft, SpaceShipTwo will be carried to 50,000 feet above sea level – 20,000 feet higher than most airliners – by its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo.

Once there, SpaceShipTwo's own rocket engine will fire, launching the little ship to the boundary between the atmosphere and the vacuum of space at three times the speed of sound. After the engines are cut off, they will enter free-fall, experiencing total weightlessness for several minutes.

WhiteKnightTwo has been undergoing flight tests since December last year.

So far 300 people have paid in full for their ticket, while a further 82,000 have registered their interest on Virgin Galactic's website. The engineers behind the craft refer to the rich, middle-aged people who are their target market as “Brads and Angelinas”, according to Wired.com.

The new craft is the descendant of SpaceShipOne, the first ever privately funded manned space vehicle. Scaled Components, the company which built both ships, won the $10 million (£6 million) X Prize for being the first non-governmental organisation to reach space.