Tom Ballantyne

Thailand's government is moving towards domestic and international open skies this year, starting with a move to end a virtual monopoly held by flag carrier Thai Airways International on major domestic routes.

Thai transport and communication minister Suthep Thueksuban has proposed a new aviation policy, allowing private airlines to fly any domestic routes without limitations. The government also plans to lift limitations on charter flights to and from Thailand by local and foreign airlines.

Suthep aims to liberalise international routes but gradually, beginning with new bilateral agreements in regional markets such as Indonesia. 'We are trying to get rid of all the difficulties involved in liberalisation, including air fare control policies,' says Suthep.

Suthep says Thai will increase scheduled flights on domestic and international routes and private airlines will be able to do the same. Limits on charter operations by Thai and foreign carriers will also be abolished, with foreign carriers cleared to operate charter flights to any destination in Thailand with a customs post.

The lifting of government protection of Thai was proposed as local carrier, Orient Thai Airlines, announced it was suspending all domestic flights from 9 January in the face of mounting losses.

Orient Thai's managing director, Udom Tantiprasongchai, complained that despite good load factors the carrier lost money as it was barred from operating direct flights between major cities. But Orient Thai intends to resume scheduled flights once the new aviation policy takes effect and will compete with Thai on lucrative domestic routes, Udom continues.

Source: Airline Business