Pilots organise against foreigners in cockpits
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Pilots organise against foreigners in cockpits

PM floats idea to help airlines scale up flights, but pilots’ group says hundreds of local grads are still jobless

Touchscreen controls are seen inside the cockpit of a Boeing 737-9 aircraft during an event showcasing updates to the aircraft at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, in September 2021. (Photo: Bloomberg)
Touchscreen controls are seen inside the cockpit of a Boeing 737-9 aircraft during an event showcasing updates to the aircraft at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, in September 2021. (Photo: Bloomberg)

The Thai Pilots Association strongly opposes a government proposal to temporarily ease restrictions on foreign pilots flying with Thai carriers.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said on Thursday that one major obstacle for the tourism sector has been the slow resumption in flights. A post-pandemic personnel shortage has been one of the reasons cited by airlines worldwide.

The government has already asked airlines to increase flights and expand their fleets to help spur the recovery of tourism, he said during a visit to the Thai offices of Agoda, the world’s largest travel booking platform.

Some airlines would like the government to consider allowing foreign pilots to fly Thai aircraft, as the job is currently reserved for Thais.

“We will discuss this issue with the Ministry of Labour to seek a possible solution, including lifting this restriction on a temporary basis,” Mr Srettha said.

Teerawat Angkasakulkiat, president of the pilots’ group, said the association disagrees with the idea of allowing foreign pilots to work for Thai carriers.

During the pandemic, airlines scaled down their operations, forcing them to furlough a number of Thai pilots and freeze employment of fresh graduates, he said.

Mr Teerawat said Thai student pilots face difficulties getting jobs as they don’t have the experience to apply for foreign carriers, such as airlines in the Middle East that require experienced pilots who have already obtained licences and sufficient flight hours.

The association found some experienced pilots who were laid off during the pandemic have not returned to the cockpit, as the fleets of some airlines have yet to fully recover.

“Thailand has around 1,200 student pilots who still cannot find a job,” he said.

Prior to the pandemic, airlines typically sponsored pilot training to obtain specific aircraft licences known as type ratings, which take around nine months to obtain, with airlines absorbing all related costs for pilots.

“Importing foreign pilots might help save time, but it would cause many Thai pilots to lose their jobs,” said Mr Teerawat.

Post-pandemic, some airlines have opted for a new pay-to-fly scheme, which is popular among European carriers.

The scheme requires new graduates to pay the airline for the training programme, which can cost the equivalent of 1.7 million to 3.5 million baht, in exchange for jobs, he said.

“Some foreign-funded airlines in Thailand have started using this employment scheme,” Mr Teerawat said.

He said the scheme is unfair, as it imposes a huge financial burden on newly graduated pilots.

The Thai Aviation Academy produces high-quality pilots who have undergone extensive training to operate any type of commercial aircraft in Thailand, said Mr Teerawat.

He said expanding fleets will take months or even years, during which time airlines can train new pilots.

“Over a thousand student pilots are still unemployed. I think we should prioritise them. There is no need to open this job to foreigners,” said Mr Teerawat.

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