Somchainuk: Thai’s trouble-shooter

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By Jackie Thompson in London

Sometimes in business the only thing to do is to bring in a trouble-shooter – someone who knows what needs to be done and is prepared to do it. Somchainuk Engtrakul is just such a person, called on by Thai Airways to take the reins following the events of 11 September 2001, and again in August when directors stripped incumbent Kanok Abhiradee of his authority and installed Somchainuk as acting president

somchaiThe bizarre arrangement sees Kanok still at the carrier advising Somchainuk, but he no longer has any management authority. Somchainuk’s tenure as president has been extended until at least February 2006 when he expects to hand over the reins. A successor is in the process of being recruited, he says.

Kanok was stripped of his authority following the announcement in August of a sudden reversal in Thai’s fortunes with a loss of 4,779 million baht ($116 million) for the three months ending 30 June.

Somchainuk is continuing with Kanok’s plan to spin off three subsidiaries but has vowed its five main business units will remain in-house. The airline’s board has so far approved the establishment of three subsidiaries, including one that will manage airports starting with Krabi airport, situated on Thailand’s southwest coast, and Bangladesh’s Shah Amanat international airport in Chittagong.

The other two are a subsidiary managing the airline’s human resources needs, such as staff training, and a subsidiary to be involved in airline ticket sales and tour packages.

Somchainuk insists that even though the airline is transferring some business functions to new subsidiaries, the airline has no plans to spin off its five main business units: cargo and mail, catering, ground customer services, ground support equipment services and technical.

To coincide with the opening of Bangkok’s new Suvarnabhumi airport – in which Thai has a major stake – now scheduled for the end of June 2006, the carrier has remodelled its corporate image, in particular with its new Royal Silk business class offering on services between Bangkok and London.

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According to Somchainuk, the carrier is also adding a premium economy class on its Airbus A340-500 operated Bangkok-New York flights, and when Thai receives its six A380s on order, scheduled from 2009, there are plans for the aircraft to be configured with four separate class cabins.

“The A380 will be a showcase for us to show what we can do,” he says. Seat numbers have yet to be confirmed although Airbus is pushing launch customers for decisions on cabin configurations, Somchainuk adds, hinting at a figure of 450 passengers total capacity.

Thai is increasing its frequencies out of London Heathrow from 13 to 14 weekly flights. Like many other carriers, Somchainuk  would like even more slots at Heathrow, but the lack of availability has led Thai to look at Manchester as an additional UK destination.  Other destinations Thai plans to serve within the next five years, he says, are Berlin, Johannesburg, Sendai and Hiroshima in Japan and Shenzhen in China.

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