• ANALYSIS

    Are Thai airlines damaged by open skies policy?

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    THAILAND’S open-skies policy is so liberal that foreign airlines are exploiting it to the disadvantage of Thai carriers, claims one airline boss.

    Patee Sarasin, chief executive of budget carrier Nok Air, made the remark as he questioned certain countries for not reciprocating air service rights to Thai airlines that Thailand had granted to them.

    “While we [Thailand] fully comply with the open-skies policy, some others that are said to be committed to reciprocation do not,” he told the Bangkok Post.

    Cash-rich Persian Gulf carriers have exploited Thailand’s aviation liberalization to the fullest by substantially adding capacity to flights between the Middle East and Thailand and beyond, Mr Patee said.

    He specifically cited Laos and Cambodia as countries that continued to restrict Thai airlines’ access to their air space, describing their commitment to open skies as mere rhetoric.

    South Korea is another example, with Asiana, Korean Air, Jeju Air, Jin Air and T’way Air enjoying substantial traffic between Thailand and South Korea, he said.

    On the other hand, only two Thai airlines — Thai Airways International (THAI) and Thai AirAsia X — operate limited scheduled flights between the two countries.

    “It’s high time that we [Thailand] started looking at the pros and cons of our open skies, especially as some countries are still using the traffic rights restriction to protect their carriers,” the jeans-wearing pop singer/executive said.

    “Thai authorities should look for means to protect our own airlines.”

    Mr Patee said flag carrier THAI had been heavily affected by the open-skies policy.

    However, his views are not entirely taken on board as an industry consensus by executives of Thai-registered airlines approached by the Bangkok Post.

    One senior executive said Thailand’s open skies were indeed benefiting the country as a whole, although some Thai airlines might feel at a disadvantage.

    Thailand’s aviation liberalization has allowed international airlines to bring in a great number of visitors to Thailand to support its burgeoning tourism industry, whose importance as an economic backbone is growing.

    They are making Thailand a global destination and a regional hub with connections to almost anywhere in the world, the source said.

    Cash-strapped THAI has been suspending long-standing routes such as Bangkok-Madrid, making Thailand less connected to the world and stemming inbound tourist traffic.

    “But let’s be honest. The traffic rights to operate flights to foreign countries rendered by Thailand’s open-skies policy are there for THAI and others to make use of if they choose to,” the executive said.

    If Thailand decided to restrict its skies, the country would not be able to attract a significant number of Chinese tourists who travel by Chinese carriers and who have proved to be a savior for Thai tourism.

    Emirates, the Dubai-based international airline that provides the largest seat capacity between the Gulf and Thailand, supports Thailand’s open-skies policy.

    “Emirates has always advocated the benefits of open skies, which we have in Dubai and which we believe are in the best interests of consumers and economies as well as a healthy and competitive airline industry. Around the world, aviation liberalization has been evolving over time,” an Emirates spokesman said.

    Emirates in Thailand operates within government agreements, the source said.

    The airline is on course to ramp up seat capacity between Thailand and the UAE from 3,053 a day to 4,500 from Dec 1.

    “We’re proud to have served our customers in Thailand since 1990 and facilitate tourism and trade by promoting Thailand to travelers across our global network,” the spokesman added.

    ©2015 THE BANGKOK POST (BANGKOK, THAILAND) / DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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