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A Decade Ago: Airline safety no April fools joke

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: The April 1, 2006 edition of the Phuket Gazette was no joking matter, as the European Commission (EC) blacklisted the now-defunct Phuket Airlines due to safety concerns. However, even as the Gazette went to press a decade ago, the company had applied to launch another airline, to be called Holiday Airplanes.

Phuket is no stranger to horrific airline crashes, only a year and half after Phuket Airlines was blacklisted, One-Two-Go flight OG269 crashed during landing, killing 89 of the 130 people on board. That company wasn’t added to the EC blacklist until April 8, 2009 – you can only imagine what Phuket Airlines was up to, to find themselves banned from the airspace of the European Union and Switzerland.

Then again, we don’t have to imagine.

The airline began to have problems with its safety image in 2005, when passengers aboard one of its Boeing 727s bound for London forced a takeoff to be aborted after seeing fuel pouring from a wing tank after a refueling stop in the United Arab Emirates.

A few days later, another flight was abandoned after it had to turn back to London with a hydraulics problem. The company tried to switch to an Amsterdam route, but authorities barred a flight from taking off there after it was discovered that the emergency lighting inside the plane was not working properly. The saga continued when a small aircraft skidded off the end of the runway at Tak Airport in northern Thailand – only one passenger was injured.

If the looming threat of an EC ban of flights from Thailand doesn’t seem to just be coming from the annals of history, that’s because the EC and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) are currently working with Thai authorities to improve safety standards.

The Commission and EASA will closely monitor future developments, and if the protection of air passengers against safety risks so requires, the Commission could then propose to include one or more air carriers from Thailand in the Air Safety List, said the EC in a statement in December.

Though Thailand airlines narrowly escaped being added to the blacklist in December, they had already been downgraded by the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates United States air safety, to category 2. Prior to this, the International Civil Aviation Organization placed the airlines under ‘special measures’, which prompted Japan and South Korea to block new flights from the Kingdom.

Clearly, despite the golden opportunity of having an April 1 issue date, the Gazette a decade ago – and now – did not see aviation safety as a laughing matter.

Regardless of the ban on Phuket Airlines in Europe, the importance of the European market was still enormous for Phuket. So, the ‘Inside Story’ a decade ago dived into the International Tourism Bourse (ITB) in Berlin.

Tourism business people from Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi returned from Berlin optimistic about the prospects for the 2006-2007 high season, having received positive feedback during the ITB 2006.

Though the European market pipeline has been constricted to the point that it only produces a trickle of what it once did, having been replaced by a strong Russian market (until the bottom dropped out on Russian ruble) and now the Chinese market, the Tourism Authority of Thailand continues to attend the ITB – pushing the wonders of the Andaman region to Europe.

These wonders – deserted beaches in Krabi and Phang Nga, the island speckled Gulf of Phang Nga and the Phuket infrastructure that makes all of these places easily accessible – will continue to draw people from around the world to the region. Now, whether or not they arrive in Thailand on a Thai airline is a different matter altogether.

— Isaac Stone Simonelli

 

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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