Prayuth defends fix for beleaguered blimp

Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha insisted yesterday that repairing a damaged 350-million-baht airship purchased to help peace efforts in the deep South is a worthy investment.

Gen Prayuth was responding to criticism that fixing the airship would be another waste of state funds.

The army has opened the bidding to repair the damaged airship, which crash-landed in Pattani during a mission late last year.

Gen Prayuth brushed aside the criticism, saying that it is quite normal for any military equipment which has been damaged to undergo repair.

"I don't know why people are making such a fuss. When army equipment is damaged, it needs repairing. Any [flying object] can fall. If aircraft or helicopters can crash, so can airships. Just lay the issue to rest," the army chief said.

Gen Prayuth said the army had assessed the airship's usefulness and concluded it still has a role to play in military operations because it can perform several functions. If a later assessment concludes the airship is no longer useful, the army will decommission it, the army chief said.

Earlier, an army source said that a 50-million-baht budget had been approved to repair the surveillance airship. It has been out of action since it crash-landed on Dec 13 at the base of the 15th Infantry Division in Pattani's Nong Chik district. The mishap occurred while it was patrolling the skies during a visit to the region by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Two military pilots and two technicians on board the airship at the time of the accident escaped with minor injuries.

The Internal Security Operation Command, which owns the airship, had asked the Army Transportation Department to help open the bidding process, the source said.

The news of the repair work has come despite conflicting media reports that suggest the airship may in fact be decommissioned.

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Writer: Wassana Nanuam
Position: Reporter