Thailand’s inbound flight ban, due to expire at midnight on Monday 6 April, has now been extended to Saturday, 18 April. The extension was put in place yesterday by Thailand’s Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT). Under the ban, state, military, emergency, medical, technical, and humanitarian flights will be allowed to land in the country. Regular commercial flights will not be allowed to land.
The original three day ban is extended
Thailand put the original ban in place for three days on Saturday in an effort to halt the spread of COVID-19. Thailand has recorded 2,220 COVID-19 cases with 26 deaths. The country has declared a state of emergency.
Another motivating factor for the extension was some incoming passenger’s reluctance to enter into a mandatory 14 day quarantine on arrival into Thailand. There were reports on the weekend that over 100 recent arrivals had ignored quarantine rules.
The extension is bad news for Thai nationals stuck abroad and trying to get home.
It’s also a blow for national carrier Thai Airways. Just last week, the airline marked its 60th birthday. But there’s not a lot to celebrate at Thai Airways right now. The airline, which remains majority owned by the Thai government, has been struggling for some years.
The COVID-19 outbreak and Thailand’s ban on flights will see the airline’s problems soar to new heights. Unlike many airlines, Thai Airways hasn’t suspended all its flying – at least not officially. But over the last two weeks, it has been withdrawing from most of its international routes.
As always, with Thai Airways, there are contradictory reports about what’s going on.
The flight ban worsens problems for Thai Airways
Even before the current situation, the legacy carrier had been under sustained assault from South East Asia’s low-cost carriers. Thai Airways exemplified all that could go wrong with government-owned carriers. The formerly formidable carrier now has a mishmash fleet of aging aircraft that are both expensive and inefficient to operate. Thai Airways, while still maintaining a decent reputation for their soft product, has also become the go-to airline for passengers hunting a cheap ticket on a full service airline.
It’s not exactly a recipe for success. Last year, in a message to the airline’s 22,000 plus employees, Thai Airways president Sumeth Damrongchaitham said;
“Today I want staff to be united to overcome the obstacles. Otherwise, the national airline must close down. There is still time for a solution, but there is not much time,
“Thai is really in a crisis. Next year it must do its best. If staff are still unaware and do nothing, they will not have enough time to fight back. Today very little time remains. Today there is no comfort zone. Everyone will die if the vessel sinks.”
Mr Damrongchaitham wants to overhaul how Thai Airways operates; cut costs, reduce inefficiencies, cull surplus staff, and look at new ways of doing things. It’s the standard struggling airline makeover, but the airline boss gets points for having a go.
Thai government is unlikely to let Thai Airways fail
But Thai Airways is firmly enmeshed in that country’s murky politics and the attendant favors, cronyism, and patronage that go with it. There’s a lot of pride in Thai Airways in Thailand, including in the Thai government. That works in Thai’s favor as the government is unlikely to let the carrier go under, no matter how long the COVID-19 crisis goes on.
But the result could be a crippled airline that continues to struggle. As the fleet gets older and funds get tighter, core areas like maintenance may start to be impacted – and that gives rise to whole host of problems.
It is in Thai Airways’ interests to get back into business sooner rather than later. But with the pandemic showing no signs of easing and countries extending their border restrictions, that may be a forlorn hope.
Thailand’s current ban on incoming commercial flights will expire at 11:59 on Saturday 18 April 2020.