Nok Air gets warning, dismissed captain blames pilot shortage

The dismissed Nok Air pilot blames a severe lack of pilots for Sunday's crisis as the government warns the company it could lose its licence if it allows passengers to be affected by its problems.

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Nok Air received a severe warning yesterday as the company's chief reiterated that disgruntled pilots were responsible for Sunday's flight cancellations, a claim flatly rejected by the pilot/manager dismissed by the airline. Let's begin with a Bangkok Post story before taking a close look at the pilot's claim made during a Thai TV channel 3 appearance late yesterday afternoon.

Nok Air gets yellow card

Post reporters

The government has warned Nok Air it could lose its licence if it allows passengers to be affected by its problems.

Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said after the cabinet meeting on Tuesday that the cabinet ordered the Transport Ministry to meet Nok Air chief executive Patee Sarasin to give the warning.

The move followed Nok Air pilots' strike on Sunday which had called off nine flights and stranded hundreds of travellers at Don Mueang airport.

If such an incident recurs, Nok Air's licence will be suspended and a third offence would result in the licence being terminated, Maj Gen Sansern said.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said on Tuesday that Nok Air’s CEO had shown up late at Don Mueang after the strike although airline staff and officials should be on hand to help passengers and take swift responses.

He also said it was unacceptable for pilots to strike in protest against a measure aimed at improving air safety standards.

Deputy Transport Minister Ormsin Chivapruck told the cabinet that Mr Patee had not attended a government meeting with airline executives on Monday because he had been involved in filming an advertisement in Hua Hin district, Prachuap Khiri Khan.

To prevent a repeat of the incident, the Transport Ministry would require all airlines to have partners to serve their passengers during strikes, he said.

Besides, they would have to work out risk-management and emergency-response plans within a month, he said.

The deputy minister also said the striking Nok Air pilots had tendered their sick leaves only an hour before their flight schedules on Sunday and his ministry would also hear their side of the story in addition to management information.

At the Transport Ministry on Tuesday, Mr Patee said the strike was caused by management’s decision to have the pilots choose to be either executives or pilots, a safety measure aimed at separating duties for more balanced supervision.

At present, some of its pilots concurrently serve as executives.

He said Nok Air had 130 pilots and only eight had problems with the measure.

From left to right, Channel 3 newsman Sorayut Suthassanachinda discusses Sunday's pilot action with Sanong Yingchalern, head of the pilot's association, and Sanit Khongphet, the only Nok Air captain fired over the incident.

Dismissed pilot explains

Late yesterday afternoon dismissed Nok Air Captain Sanit Khongphet explained his side of the story to a large television audience through veteran Channel 3 newsman Sorayut Suthassanachinda.

First, Mr Sanit flatly rejected Mr Patee's contention that pilots were angered at having to choose between being executives and pilots. He said the executive position only added 5,000 baht to his salary and he much preferred piloting aircraft.

He said the biggest contributing factor to Sunday's crisis was a shortage of pilots. A significant number of pilots (30 - 40) had resigned the previous year which means there are not enough pilots to adequately cover its flight schedule, a matter company executives had not discussed with pilots with management responsibilities.

More pilots were hired, but it takes three to five years before they are ready for full service. Thus, the airline was not ready for Sunday's traffic even without the pilots failing to show up for work.

Airline executives pressured the company's trainers to authorise the use of new, not fully qualified pilots, to cover the gaps, something Mr Sanit says he firmly resisted and which caused great unease among the trainers who were also pilots. They were among those who refused to fly on Sunday, Mr Sanit said. Their distressed psychological state disqualified them from flying. Thus, Sunday's action was not a strike, not a protest, but was caused by a genuine problem within the company, he said.

You can see the full interview (in Thai) here:

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Writer: Terry Fredrickson
Position: Online Editor of Learning & Education