BANGKOK, Thailand – The Thai government risks hampering the growth of the country’s airlines unless it fixes capacity and safety issues including ‘sinking’ tarmac at the kingdom’s main airport, an industry group said Thursday, February 18.
Thailand is a major regional hub for air transport but was flagged last year for failing to meet basic safety standards by the UN and other global agencies.
On Thursday the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents 260 airlines, joined the chorus of concern and urged the Thai government to improve safety oversight.
“The airlines themselves are operating safely. The issue is the government’s ability to oversee that and supervise them,” IATA director Tony Tyler said after meeting with government officials in Bangkok.
“Aviation is critical to Thailand’s economic success… It is in jeopardy, however, unless key issues of safety, capacity and costs are addressed urgently.”
Thailand’s aviation sector accounts for an estimated two million jobs, according to IATA, and acts as the backbone of the kingdom’s tourism industry – one of few bright spots in an otherwise flagging economy.
But Tyler warned that the sector will struggle to grow without extra work on safety issues and increased capacity at the main airport Suvarnabhumi.
One recurring problem at the airport is “soft spots” – patches of asphalt that melt in the heat and ensnare aircraft wheels as they taxi to the gates, prompting delays.
“This doesn’t happen at any other airport,” Tyler said, blaming an over-reliance on asphalt on taxiways.
Thai aviation authorities patch over subsided spots with new asphalt instead of using stronger concrete, he explained.
“Aircraft should be able to taxi freely and park freely without sinking in,” he added. “This is a basic requirement.”
Thailand’s military government vowed to overhaul the country’s airline industry after the United States downgraded the country in its air safety rating in December.
Junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha has blamed successive civilian administrations for failing to tackle safety concerns over the last decade of turbulent politics, marked by short-lived governments, protests, and military coups.
In March last year the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization reported “significant safety concerns” within Thailand’s aviation sector.
The European Union is also mulling whether to blacklist the kingdom’s air carriers.
Two Thai airlines are registered IATA members – Bangkok Airways and state carrier Thai Airways, which has floundered in recent years under massive debt. – Rappler.com
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