Trade group cools jets on aviation hub
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Trade group cools jets on aviation hub

2030 too soon for ambitious goal

A Swiss International Air Lines jet takes off from Suvarnabhumi airport. Mr Srettha pledged to make Thailand the region's leading aviation hub by 2030, as part of the
A Swiss International Air Lines jet takes off from Suvarnabhumi airport. Mr Srettha pledged to make Thailand the region's leading aviation hub by 2030, as part of the "Ignite Thailand" vision. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)

DUBAI: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says Thailand may be constrained in its pursuit of becoming the region's leading aviation hub by 2030 because of global supply chain disruptions, adding that Thailand needs to remove unnecessary regulations and move towards digitalisation for aviation efficiency.

"I think Thailand can achieve its ambition, but it will probably take longer than 2030," Willie Walsh, IATA director-general, told the Bangkok Post at the group's annual general meeting in Dubai.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin pledged to make Thailand the region's leading aviation hub by 2030, as part of the "Ignite Thailand" vision.

Mr Walsh said this policy is ambitious and Thailand is acknowledged as a popular tourist destination.

However, achieving this status by the proposed timeline would require many long-term investments that might exceed the 2030 milepost, he said.

Mr Walsh said one obstacle is new aircraft orders, particularly wide-body jets that are extremely difficult to acquire from both top manufacturers -- Airbus and Boeing.

In the past, he said the lead time for orders for Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 jets was 4-5 years, citing his experience as chief executive of British Airways when the airline ordered both models in 2007 and obtained them in 2011 and 2012.

"Back in 2007, we never had any concerns about getting in the queue. It was pretty clear we would get the aircraft we ordered," said Mr Walsh. "Today, you can try to order an aircraft, but you are going to wait for a long time."

According to IATA, 1,583 aircraft will be delivered globally in 2024.

Marie Owens Thomsen, senior vice-president of sustainability and chief economist at IATA, said the number of jet deliveries has been slashed by about 150 as the aviation sector faces delays across the supply chain, including aircraft, engines and parts.

Ms Thomsen said the 150 delayed jets would be added to the 2025 tally, with deliveries next year estimated at 2,293.

She said this is a "fingers crossed" scenario, as there is still uncertainty regarding how production lines will catch up with surging demand.

FAR-FETCHED DREAM

Xie Xingquan, regional vice-president for North Asia and ad-interim for Asia-Pacific at IATA, said there are several regulatory risks in Thailand.

The government is drafting a revised consumer protection law to address areas such as flight delays, cancellations, denied boarding, overlooking and negligence of disabled passengers.

These will be applied to both Thai and foreign carriers, causing onerous requirements for airlines similar to Europe's EU 261 rules, he said.

Mr Xie said IATA already told the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand that the government should take into account the positions of airlines to ensure shared accountability.

He said it is possible for any destination in Asia-Pacific to become a tourism and aviation hub, depending on government efforts and how attractive the airports are to airlines.

"Look at the Middle East, which created a miracle from the desert and became an international hub to the world. I think it's possible for Thailand, but it won't be easy," said Mr Xie.

The latest visa-free scheme with extended stays for 93 countries is only part of the process, he said. Other factors include offering incentives in terms of landing fees and excise tax, as well as accelerating the digitalisation of passenger processing and cargo logistics for improved efficiency.

Airports of Thailand started implementing automatic channels for international travellers departing from some airports to speed up immigration.

After the recent incident involving a Singapore Airlines flight hit by severe turbulence, IATA also highlighted the importance of safety and mitigation of turbulence impacts at the annual summit.

In 2018, the association launched the Turbulence Aware platform to collect real-time data from airlines and send details to other aircraft in the system, making them aware of the event's location.

There are 21 airlines feeding data into the platform and 150 million turbulence reports.

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