Looking beyond a political visit to Thai Airways


BANGKOK (eTN) – It is not everyday that a Thai Prime Minister comes to Thai Airways headquarters to meet up with its management and hear about the future of Thailand’s national carrier. But the occasion was ideal as Thailand’s national carrier celebrates its 50th anniversary. It was also an ideal time to learn more about the progress made in Thai Airways’s new strategic plan “Mission TG 100.”

Thai Airways president Piyasvasti Amranand highlighted the challenges Thai Airways has been facing for a couple of years: negative events such as bird flu, political turmoil, economic crisis, and also growing competition from the low-cost industry. He concluded, however, his presentation on a more optimistic tone: Thai Airways can show again strong financial results, following a catastrophic year 2008 and a moderate financial recovery in 2009.

During the first half year of 2010, Thai Airways already made a net profit of US$395 million, to be compared to US$235 million net profit for the entire year 2009. Mr. Amranand looked also pleased by recent improvements in the airline’s quality of service. “We already received a 5-Star rating by Skytrax for our ground services. We still face [a] problem of consistency on our inflight product such as ageing seating. But Skytrax 5-Star Status for our complete performance is now within reach,” said Piyasvasti.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva could only acknowledge the progress realized by Thailand’s national carrier and pledges support in Thai Airways’ quest to become a stronger and more competitive carrier over the next years. That was the least the management of Thai Airways International could have expected from the government, which still remains TG’s main shareholder with 53 percent of the shares.

Despite the fact that many Thai journalists present at the PM visit described Mr. Vejjajiva’s performance as “very politically correct,” the event showed a shift in the relations between the government and the state airline.

History was even written when a panel session occurred following official speeches with an open discussion happening between Thai top management, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, and the Minister of Transport. The presentation made by Thai President Piyasvasti Amranand was also a complete break-away.

“Mr. Amranand[‘s] speech was clear, extremely factual, even in some ways provocative, by showing the challenges facing Thai Airways, especially against low cost carriers. Anything else than the kind of soothing presentation we were used to hav[ing] in the past,” highlighted Pandit Chanapai, executive vice president of human resources and general management. One journalist present at the meeting indicated that today’s presentation would have been inconceivable with previous Presidents Kanok Abhiradee or Apinan Sumanaseni.

It seems that the message went well into the PM’s ears. Especially when Mr. Amranand pledged that Thai Airways should be fully accountable for its strategic decisions. Two weeks ago, polemics swelled with Minister of Transport Sophon Zarum about the future joint venture for a low-cost airline with Singapore-based Tiger Airways. By saying in front of Thai Airways management, Thai Airways Unions, and Thai media that the airline was fully empowered to make its own decisions, Mr. Abhisit definitely condemned the attitude of his transport minister.

“The PM used soft words but the message was anything but ambiguous,” analyzed a Thai journalist. At the end of the visit, asked if he would now completely back up the future Thai Tiger Airways, the Minister of Transport looked rather upset when he grumbled, “Yes, of course.”