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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Deputy transport minister hints at adopting single airport policy

BANGKOK, March 17 (TNA) – Deputy Transport Minister Songsak Thongsri on Monday hinted at adopting a restored single metropolitan Bangkok airport policy, saying that three airlines operating at Don Mueang Airport at the moment will be shifted back to Suvarnabhumi Airport when its expansion project second phase is completed.

He revealed that newly-appointed board members of the Airports of Thailand would be invited to meet and discuss with him this week regarding the ministry's policy.

Initially, he said, the board would be asked to accelerate coping with urgent problems regarding varied inconvenience in services passengers had faced at Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Regarding the use of Don Mueang Airport, Mr. Songsak said the ministry had a clear-cut policy to have a single airport in the country and gave the AoT's executives proper understanding on the matter.

In the future, the three air carriers operating at Don Mueang Airport -- Thai Airways International, One Two Go, and Nok Air -- will shift back their local flight services to Suvarnabhumi when its second expansion phase is completely implemented.

"All airlines will be shifted back to Suvarnabhumi when the airport expansion project is completely carried out. Then, Don Mueang Airport will be used in various proposed forms, such as a maintenance and repair centre or an aviation show centre," he said.

Aviation Department director general Chaisak Angkasuwan said the single airport policy is the most suitable for the country's aviation system.

He said the department had enquired of all airlines about the single airport policy and received a common view that it is the approach that could give passengers the most convenience. (TNA)-E005

THAI set to co-operate with Indonesian national carrier

The flag carriers of Thailand and Indonesia are launching a co-operation initiative to strengthen competitiveness with regional low-cost carriers.

Thai Airways International president Apinan Sumanaseni and Garuda Indonesia chief executive Emirsyah Satar on Monday led executives in reaching co-operation deals to create win-win benefits for both parties, they said.

Part of the co-operation would involve Garuda feeding traffic to THAI's more extensive network, especially to Europe, where all Indonesian-registered aircraft have been banned since last July as the European Union declared them unsafe.

THAI serves several major European cities and other destinations in China where Garuda sees potential to transfer traffic from its own network. THAI executive vice-president Pandit Chanapai and his Garuda counterpart, Agus Priyanto, were concerned about the expansion of low-cost carriers, especially AirAsia, and agreed to work together to defend their market shares.

The carriers would share information and experience on LCCs in order to come up with ways to battle them, said Mr Pandit.

One of the battlegrounds is the Bangkok-Jakarta route, where AirAsia is adding a second daily flight on April 1 to capitalise on growing traffic.

THAI is countering this by adding three more flights a week on the route on March 29, raising total weekly frequencies to 10. All use wide-body Airbus 300 aircraft.

Mr Pandit said the cabin factor on THAI's Bangkok-Jakarta flight was currently averaging 80%.

Garuda's Mr Agus said the airline planned to put its daily Jakarta-Bangkok flight, which arrives very late at night, on an earlier schedule. Designed to attract more passengers, the change could take effect as soon as November.

Garuda's load factor on the Jakarta-Bangkok route is only 60% due to the poor timing. The airline also faced an aircraft capacity constraint, Mr Agus explained.

Other areas of co-operation cover sales, the use of THAI's lounges at Suvarnabhumi Airport for Garuda passengers, and a broader use of THAI's ground handling services at Suvarnabhumi. The talks did not cover a code-share agreement but executives of both airlines did not rule out the possibility in the future.

THAI shares closed yesterday on the SET at 28.50 baht, down 25 satang, in trade worth 57.88 million baht.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Angry taxi drivers protest at Suvarnabhumi

A group of protesting cab drivers who gathered at Suvarnabhumi airport at 12:20am this morning to protest so-called "black licence taxis" agreed to disperse after negotiations with the police.

Scores of taxi drivers gathered outside the departures terminal shouting "Get out!", referring to the unlicensed taxis they say have been stealing their fares from the new airport.

At 12:40am, a police officer arrived to talk to representatives of the protesters, vowing to bring the matter to the attention of the Airports of Thailand. He also promised that the police will not take legal action against the protesters.

After the group was asked to select five representatives to meet with the police officer again on Friday, the group agreed at 1am to call off their protest.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

PM visits local market in Cambodia

Prime minister Samak Sundaravej asked for some time alone this morning, on his second and final day of an official visit to Cambodia.

Mr Samak,a keen chef and culinary expert, reportedly nipped off to a local market in Phnom Penh to observe the atmosphere there. According to a local paper, the Thai premier spend over an hour at the market before returning to his hotel.

On Monday, he met with Cambodian leader Hun Sen to discuss bilateral issues, including Thai assistance to Cambodia in the constructin of transportation routes in the future.

Mr Samak is due back in Thailand on Thai Airways International flight TG 697 expected to land at Suvarnabhumi airport at 11a.m.

Safe and secure?

Security for the former prime minister is tight and he is guarded around the clock amid fears for his safety, reports Surasak Tumcharoen.

Thaksin Shinawatra and his son, Panthongtae, were escorted by bodyguards and close aides to the Supreme Court, where the former prime minister heard corruption charges in connection with the Ratchadaphisek land deal on Feb 28.

One of the reasons deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra gave for deciding to return home after 17 months of self-imposed exile was homesickness. He said on the day he returned that there was nowhere in the world that he and his family feel happy like in Thailand.

But is he really happy?

Since his return, Mr Thaksin has been guarded by a large security force and has to keep his whereabouts secret amid fears of being assassinated.

Mr Thaksin flew Thai International from Hong Kong to Suvarnabhumi international airport and was ushered into the passenger terminal for a routine customs check. He then stepped out to an open space to pay homage to his motherland by bowing to the ground before greeting the hundreds of people and members of the press outside the building.

Security measures for the former prime minister went unnoticed and were carried out in a strict and foolproof fashion, which was unusual for a man who had cited safety reasons, besides other reasons, for not having come home earlier.

Security for Mr Thaksin, who has repeatedly claimed he has washed his hands of politics and says he prefers to live and die in his motherland, has remained tight and unrelenting since the possibility of the former prime minister being assassinated could not be ruled out, according to one of his close aides.

Although unconfirmed reports about missing rifles from an army unit, which could possibly be used by snipers, were immediately dismissed by Metropolitan Police commander Assawin Kwanmuang, Mr Thaksin's close aides cannot afford to be careless and have maintained maximum security for their boss.

Hundreds of riot police, in uniform and plain clothes, have been on watch around the places Mr Thaksin has visited. They are on the lookout for possible assailants, including snipers hiding on rooftops or taking aim through windows in buildings. In addition to these "official" police units, dozens of plain clothes police and military officers have been working 24 hours a day to form an inner ring of bodyguards around the former prime minister.

While a dozen plain clothes Special Branch policemen mingled with the hundreds who came to cheer Mr Thaksin at Suvarnabhumi airport and outside the Supreme Court and the Office of the Attorney-General when he showed up to apply for bail, the "inner ring" of his security detail scanned the areas as though they were double-checking with the "official" security teams.

Mr Thaksin and his family chose not to stay at their residence in the Bang Phlad area, which is said to be under renovation. But it is widely understood in security circles that the house was not considered 100% safe for the ex-premier.

At the Peninsula Hotel on the Thon Buri side of the city, both police in uniform and the "inner ring" around the ex-prime minister maintained top security measures, not only inside the five-star hotel but along Charoen Nakhon road as well as on the Chao Phraya river banks where the luxury hotel is situated.

Road checkpoints were set up in the day and even at night while marine police patrolled the river throughout the two days that Mr Thaksin and his family stayed at the hotel, which is owned by Deputy Finance Minister Pradit Phathraprasit.

On the 35th floor of the hotel, bodyguards took turns guarding Mr Thaksin around the clock while his wife Khunying Potjaman and their three children stayed on the 33rd and 34th floors. They booked a dozen Grand Deluxe Suite rooms with each costing up to 160,000 baht per night. The entire hotel area was off-limits to the press and other outsiders who did not look like foreign guests.

Mr Thaksin quietly checked out of the Peninsula Hotel on Saturday morning and headed for an undisclosed destination accompanied by his bodyguards and close aides.

Mr Thaksin is believed to be staying at either a safe house in a classy part of the Sathorn area or at another house owned by a little-known relative.

For mainly security reasons, the former prime minister - who insists he has been unduly and groundlessly accused of various misconduct and corruption charges by an assets probe committee set up by the military junta - has decided to keep himself in a safe hide-out and remain out of reach of the press and possible assailants for the time being.

His close aides suggested that Mr Thaksin should not turn himself into a sitting duck for a possible sniper, so he has been obliged to keep changing addresses.

He had been scheduled to play golf with some leading figures who worked in his administration, plus pretty singer Saranrat "Lidia" Wisuthithada, at a course in the Bang Bor area of Samut Prakan, but Mr Thaksin was forced to call it off after his security men spotted an army of reporters and photographers at the venue.

Security for Mr Thaksin at the Supreme Court where he is scheduled to attend the first hearing in a lawsuit surrounding the controversial Ratchadaphisek land deal on Mar 12 as well as during his planned trip to his home province of Chiang Mai is expected to remain as tight and unrelenting as ever.

Interior Minister Chalerm Yubamrung was said to have steered Mr Thaksin out of possible harm's way after he had met a group of people, who some think may have been involved in a conspiracy, following a foiled bombing attempt near his home a few years ago.

Mr Chalerm said Mr Thaksin was not afraid of being physically harmed in any conspiracy, as the former prime minister was once a police officer. But few would agree.

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