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Thai Airways being torn apart from within

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Thai Airways being torn apart from within | Thaiger

BANGKOK (The Nation): Although the board of directors at Thai Airways decided to reinstate its president, Apinan Sumanaseni, last week, the national carrier’s internal problems are still far from resolution. Executives and staff members have been divided largely because of internal conflicts that have arisen from criticism of the board’s major decisions.

For instance, THAI will stop direct flights between Bangkok and New York because the national carrier can no longer afford to offer its passengers lower prices than those available from neighbouring airlines, such as Singapore Air, which offers only business seating for its direct flights to New York. Many critics have questioned the huge expense involved in starting the Bangkok-New York route to begin with.

Moreover, staff and union members have challenged the THAI executives’ decision to acquire eight Airbus A330-300 aircraft, at a total cost of 30 billion baht. Opponents of the plan said the acquisition would place a higher burden on THAI’s operating costs. In fact, THAI executives had earlier decided to expand the aircraft fleet through lease contracts, which should have saved costs. But the Samak government decided instead to purchase the eight aircraft outright earlier this year. The union cited this decision as one of the wrong ones made by the board.

The union made the solid argument that, considering the sluggish aviation industry, this purchase of new aircraft was ill-timed, especially when the original decision to acquire the aircraft through leases would have eased the airline’s financial burdens.

THAI staff and executives are divided into two groups: those who support Apinan and those who support executive vice president Norahat Phloiyai, who briefly replaced Apinan as president. The movement against Apinan started some time ago. However, Norahat was not seen as a perfect choice due to his close connections with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The decision of the board to remove and abruptly reinstate Apinan is simply the tip of the iceberg. Ongoing protests reflect the union’s anger toward what they say has been the mismanagement of THAI. And the union does not trust the board. They see hidden motivations behind certain decisions.

The feeling of mistrust inside the organisation has links to the disruption in the selection of a president for the carrier. Apinan was removed but reinstated. Norahat for a brief period – about six hours – replaced Apinan. Local newspapers described the THAI board of directors as uncharacteristically immature and undignified for a national flag carrier.

The underlying issue of the conflict at THAI is staff concerns that the airline’s operations are not based purely on professional considerations. There is the belief that if THAI’s operations are motivated by political influence, then the national carrier’s ability to compete with other airlines in the region would be adversely affected.

Besides, the national carrier cannot accept anything less than genuinely professional management, especially now that oil prices have compounded the difficulties for airlines in general, and in an already fiercely competitive industry.

The board and management at THAI need to sort out their disputes and make the right decisions for the airline without compromising their professional integrity. The incident last week has already tarnished our national carrier’s image at home an abroad. We deserve better than that.

 

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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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