BANGKOK, 31 March 2015: Moves by Thailand-based airlines to increase flights, or use different aircraft to increase capacity to Japan, have been banned from 1 April.
Thailand faces its first outright ban on increasing international flights following an audit by the International Civil Aviation Organisation that flagged significant concerns about the country’s aviation safety.
At the centre of ICAO criticism is Thailand’s Department of Civil Aviation, which has been ordered to tighten controls on airlines.
Japan has put a blanket ban on new flights from Thailand and this has hit charter flights that were planned for the up-coming Songkhran holiday, which is a peak week for outbound travel.
Transport Minister Prajin Juntong said scheduled Thai flights to Japan continue as normal, while additional flights mainly charter flights or a change of aircraft are on hold.
“Japan had informed the Thai Civil Aviation Department of the suspension of the additional flights and change of the aircraft,” he told the media Monday.
It immediately has an impact on Thai AirAsia X, NokScoot, THAI Airways International and Asia Atlantic that were planning new services. But if they have been operating them on a scheduled basis prior to 1 April the flights will continue.
Japan also asked for an update on improvements to air safety standards that come under Thailand’s Civil Aviation Department, he added.
“This is a national problem that must be resolved by the Ministry of Transport, otherwise it may cause a domino effect that could lead to the ban spreading to China, South Korea and Singapore.”
Thailand’s ambassador to Japan, Sihasak Puangkatekaew, was also instructed by the foreign minister to discuss the matter with the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
Thai AirAsia X plans to launch a service to Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport, 1 May. The upcoming service is now suspended, a development that will disappoint travellers who use the airline for leisure trips and will not switch to more expensive full-service airlines. It is lost tourism business for Japan.
“We are still waiting for a final conclusion from the meeting and unable to comment until we have more information from the relevant authorities,” TAAX chief executive Nadda Buranasiri said.
THAI Airways president, Jarumporn Chotikasathein, said the airline would cancel two charter flights that were being planned to Komastu and Hiroshima 11 and 15 April.
Thai-Japan Tourism Association president, Anek Srichivachart, confirmed that Thai charter flights would be banned from landing in Japan as of 1 April.
“The ban will certainly impact on tour operators, but this measure will benefit tour operators in the long run, as the airlines will have to ensure they comply with all safety regulations. ”
The ban will also impact on Japanese tourists booking holidays this month to Thailand.
Association of Thai Travel Agents secretary, Charoen Wangananont, said: “The ban will inconvenience at least 2,000 Japanese tourists who were due to visit Thailand during the Songkhran festival on tour groups using Asia Atlantic Airline and Jet Asia Airways.”
“Normally the two airlines will fly two roundtrips during the festival. They fly Thai tourists to Japan and return with Japanese tourists to Thailand,” he said.
In addition to Japan, South Korea is also considering blocking new flights from Thailand.
The ban would cut the number of flights and seats by about 40% and prompt travel agencies to raise tour package prices.
The rock-bottom THB9,900 tour package to South Korea will disappear.
Restrictions will cause the number of outbound tourists to Japan and South Korea, to decline significantly.
South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport official, Kwak Young-pil, said it was highly unlikely that new flights would be approved. NokScoot was planning to start flights to Seoul’s Incheon Airport in May.
A NokScoot statement, read that due to the ICAO audit on Thailand’s aviation, the airline has not secured approval for a new flight Bangkok (Don Mueang) – Seoul Incheon from the South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in time to introduce the service 10 May. Consequently, NokScoot has temporarily suspended ticket sales for the flights.
“Normally, MOLIT takes 60 days to consider the application. We opened ticket sales and planned to launch the service in May. Unfortunately, after the ICAO audit on Thailand’s aviation, we understand that we will not be able to secure approval from the MOLIT in time.”
Passengers, having purchased tickets for flights to Seoul via NokScoot.com and NokScoot call centre, will be given a full refund, the airline said.
Thailand was audited by the ICAO last January, a decade after its last assessment in 2005. Audits assess a country’s overall ability to ensure aviation safety. Among the areas considered are personnel licensing and training, air worthiness assessment and certification, accident investigation and airline operations oversight, according to a report by Watson Farley and Williams, an international law firm with a commercial transport practice.
Thailand’s Department of Civil Aviation failed to return a positive audit result and like Indonesia and the Philippines, in the past, it could face an escalation of flight bans by various countries that pay heed to ICAO evaluations.