Anutin's career takes flight

Incoming Bhumjaithai Party leader gets his kicks in the sky, but when it comes to politics, he has his feet planted on the ground

The incoming Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul clearly enjoys his high-flying life, and the sky is the limit.

A caricature of Bhumjaithai Party’s next leader, Anutin Charnvirakul, shows the politician’s passion for heights. It was drawn by renowned cartoonist Chai Ratchawat.

Taking to the skies in an aeroplane is his new-found love, one acquired while he was taking an enforced break from politics.

He was among the so-called House No.111, which refers to the 111 former executives of the defunct Thai Rak Thai Party who were banned from politics for five years. The ban came to an end on May 30.

During his five years in the political wilderness, Mr Anutin, 46, devoted most of his time to learning how to fly an aeroplane and took a lot of pleasure skipping around the country.

After mastering the skill of flying, he bought his first four-seat private aircraft and gradually built up a collection until he had four of them.

At that point he decided to run a chartered flight business, with eight pilots, which makes him quite a lot of money.

His own personal craft, a single-propeller, was once used to take sick people requiring urgent medical treatment to hospital.

For him, flying is a great personal pleasure that comes first while running the business is of secondary importance.

One of the most blissful moments in his life, he says, is when he takes to the sky in his private craft.

"When in the skies, I can move the plane to the left or right. It's total freedom," he said.

Two months ago, Mr Anutin travelled to France to take delivery of his fourth aircraft and spent about a week piloting it back across Europe and all the way to Thailand.

MrAnutinand his wife Sanongnuch in the cockpit ofone of their planesasthey prepare to take off from DonMueang airport forNan during a family trip last year.

He had to stock up on food supplies and necessary items during the long journey and stopped over at several airports for refuelling.

The journey started from Cannes Airport and went via Tulluth, Corsica, Jordan, Calcutta and Chittagong before landing safe and sound in Thailand.

Even though life aboard an aircraft is carefree, he cannot afford to be too complacent and leave it in auto-pilot mode.

"Though I put it on auto-pilot, I always have to think ahead. If this or that happens, what I should do. I have to be prepared," he said.

To be a pilot, one must train to deal with emergencies, check flying equipment and study routes and the weather conditions, he said.

One must learn to prepare well and make the right decisions and not be careless. Safety is of paramount importance and the pilot must comply with flying regulations, he said.

"When on board, a captain or a pilot trainer is in charge. I respect their decisions. It doesn't matter if I own the plane or that they have to do what I want," he said.

Mr Anutin likes to offer a helping hand to fellow politicians. At a funeral in one particular province, he offered to take a politician who had a prominent role in the government on his aircraft back home to Bangkok, which helped cement their ties.

He also offered to use his plane to take the sick mother of a worker to a hospital, a gesture which has been reciprocated by the worker.

At his recent birthday party, his friends and colleagues dressed up as airline staff such as pilots, mechanics and flight attendants to honour him.

Mr Anutin also loves riding horses. He owns a stable in his Rancho Charnvee Resort & Country Club, near Khao Yai National Park in Pak Chong district of Nakhon Ratchasima. He also owns Khanong Phra private airport in Pak Chong.

Mr Anutin's passion for flying has also rubbed off on his family and he is supporting his daughter to follow in his footsteps.

"My eldest daughter Naiyaphak is also keen on flying. She is practising with her trainer during the semester break."

Even his wife Sanongnuch is always with him on one of his craft when he flies to meet his friends, or to conduct business.

Often she has to act as his co-pilot and has learned how to operate the plane.

"Now she can handle almost anything on board," he said.

Mr Anutin has been a close associate of Buri Ram politician Newin Chidchob, the founder of Bhumjaithai who recently announced he will retire from politics and dedicate himself to promoting his Buri Ram United football club.

He also named Mr Anutin as a suitable choice for party leader. Mr Anutin himself is the party's key financier and looks after all party members.

Mr Anutin is president of Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction Plc - a second-generation heir to the giant construction empire after his father Chavarat Charnvirakul, the former Bhumjaithai leader and founder of the company.

Even with this backing, he had to struggle to earn extra money when he was studying engineering at Hoftra University in New York.

The money sent from home was only enough to cover his study and living expenses.

"I had to spend a lot of money making overseas calls to talk with my girlfriend [Sanongnuch] who I was flirting with before going abroad," Mr Anutin said with a grin when asked why he had to find extra income.

He worked for a foreign company before returning to Thailand to run his family's construction business which was on the verge of bankruptcy during the economic meltdown in 1997 as a result of the baht's devaluation.

But with his determination, he finally steered the company out of the crisis and made it one of the biggest construction firms in the country.

Mr Anutin moved into politics as an adviser to then foreign minister Prachuab Chaiyasarn. He later become deputy public health minister during the Thai Rak Thai Party's time in power before being banned from politics for five years when the party was dissolved for political fraud.

Mr Anutin later joined forces with Mr Newin to establish Bhumjaithai.

Now that the onus is on him to pilot Bhumjaithai along its future political path, he vows to keep the middle-sized party intact and not merge it with any major parties.

He said Bhumjaithai will do its job well as an opposition party.

"We will not take politics to the extreme, but we will try to get rid of all conflicts," he said.

Mr Anutin does a safety inspection of his plane at his private airfield inside the family-run Rancho Charnvee Resort & Country Club, near Khao Yai National Park in Pak Chong district of Nakhon Ratchasima. NAUVARAT SUKSAMRAN

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