Political jockeying has again impacted Thai Airways International, with the resignation of its board for the second time since March.

The carrier's 15-member board resigned on 6 September after Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra threatened to sack members over their failure to end chronic in-fighting within the state-owned organisation.

Disputes among factions within the airline were blamed for hoax bomb threats, flight delays and employee union disputes in the weeks leading up to the resignations. Thai Airways president Bhisit Kuslasayanon, only appointed late last year, has stepped down and become an advisor, while deputy transport minister Pracha Maleeenond, who in recent months sought to boost his control over the airline, has been shifted from responsibility for Thai to handling the long-delayed second Bangkok airport project.

A new airline board will be elected soon. Meanwhile the old board remains in an acting capacity. Finance ministry permanent secretary Somchainuk Engtrakul was appointed acting president while a new head is sought.

Thai has been in a state of disarray since Thaksin came to power early this year. His public outbursts about the shoddy state of the national carrier and poor service standards have angered senior managers and demoralised employees. Thaksin indicated after the board resigned that a sweeping management shake-up would follow.

The board resignations came as the carrier was working on a restructuring plan that would see it dropping many domestic routes and reorganising into four or five strategic business units.

Government officials are claiming the airline's long-delayed public share offering will still go ahead before the end of the year, although few observers believe this will happen. Many within the airline and in government have been opposed to a public offering and possible sale of shares to a strategic partner since the subject was first raised in 1997. Thai is 93% owned by the government with the remaining 7% in public hands.

Thailand's new transport minister, Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, is trying to take a "business as usual" stance and has ordered the carrier to improve its performance immediately. He demanded in mid-September that Thai proceed with its long-delayed partial privatisation and work to promote the country as an aviation hub alongside private domestic carriers. He also said that Thai's new board, once appointed, would immediately work on firming up a long-term business plan.

Source: Airline Business