Staff woes bedevil Thai Airways: analysts
Outbursts against SIA reflect the frustration of executives, demoralisedby its recent scandals and losses
By Edward Tang
BANGKOK - Recent outbursts against Singapore Airlines (SIA) by senior executives of Thai Airways International is a reflection of the deep-seated frustration among the top management of the loss-making Thai carrier, analysts here said.
The airline, which is 93-per-cent state-owned, reported a sharp plunge in profit recently and has delayed its privatisation plan.
It was also rocked by scandals concerning abuse of privileges, political interference and in-fighting among senior staff.
But the hardest knock must have been Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's recent remark about sub-standard service.
On May 25, the Bangkok Post also quoted Thai Airways executive committee chairman Sunthorn Pokachaipat questioning the Star Alliance's decision to admit SIA into the 15-member network.
Last week, airline president Bhisit Kuslasayanon claimed that Thai Airways had lost half its passenger sales on the Europe-Australia sector since SIA joined the alliance last December.
Bangkok, he said, was the only transit point between the two continents until SIA joined the 15-member alliance.
Star Alliance is the largest airline network and includes big names like Lufthansa, United Airlines and All Nippon Airways.
The comments by the two senior Thai Airways executives came after the airline turned in a poor first-half performance, attributed to high fuel costs and foreign exchange losses.
Thai Airways announced a loss of 935 million baht (S$36 million) for the six months of the fiscal year ending March - a 109-per-cent drop over the same period in the previous fiscal year.
In March, it postponed an international roadshow to raise funds due to unfavourable market conditions. A plan to privatise 23 per cent of the government's 93-per-cent holding has also been delayed indefinitely.
The airline is also hit by multiple delays in the completion of Nong Ngu Hao International Airport.
Thai Airways is also bogged down by foreign loans and appears to have a serious productivity problem.
Mr Supasit Chumpol, a director, has pointed out that Thai Airways employs 24,000 people for its fleet of 80 aircraft while SIA operates 92 planes with 13,000 people.
Some Australia-bound tourists from Europe have also switched to SIA because of better in-flight entertainment and services, prompting sharp reactions from Thai Airways executives, who claimed that SIA has captured more than 50 per cent of its passengers on that sector.
But a Bangkok-based aviation expert said the figure is incorrect.
Thai Airways is losing mainly passenger transfers - and that figure is no more than 3 per cent, he said.
He also pointed out that there were other 'strong non-Star Alliance competitors' plying that route.
Thai Airways public relations director Sunathee Isvarphonchai downplays the rivalry, describing it as 'fair competition'.
'We just have to look at ourselves and try to improve, like upgrading our seats and in-flight entertainment,' she said.
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