Hundreds of Thais left stranded

Hundreds of Thais left stranded

Troubled airline's flights suspended

Aviation authorities are putting maximum pressure on troubled charter airline Business Air to repatriate hundreds of Thai passengers left stranded at Incheon Airport in South Korea after its operations were officially suspended.

Talks with Transport Minister ACM Prajin Juntong over the airline's fate will be arranged this week, but in the meantime the company has been ordered to arrange for other airlines to take the passengers.

In a Facebook posting, Business Air's executives were adamant its current problems were caused by the Department of Civil Aviation.

DCA director-general Somchai Piputvat said there are about 700 passengers who have been left stranded at Incheon airport as a result of the suspension of flight operations on Friday.

Hundreds of other tourists who were about to depart Suvarnabhumi airport for South Korea have had their flights abruptly cancelled.

Mr Somchai said the airline's flight operations were suspended because it was unable to settle unpaid debts.

He said suspension was standard department procedure when an airline runs into financial problems that compromise its services. The department had given the company three months to improve its financial standing.

One of its major debtors is Aeronautical Radio of Thailand (Aerothai).

Mr Somchai said the department was told Business Air had asked tour agencies to help find tickets for the stranded passengers. The airline itself has managed to secure only about 120 seats as it was the ski season and flights were booked solid.

He said the DCA ordered the airline to hire charter flights from Thai Airways International (THAI) to pick up the passengers, but it appeared Business Air's management had no clear plan to solve the problem.

THAI initially agreed to sell tickets to the tourists at a special low price and Business Air would have to be responsible for the cost.

Mr Somchai said the DCA was told by a foreign company that leases aircraft to Business Air that the airline had failed to return the planes after the lease contract expired in December last year.

He said Business Air has three planes in its fleet, two of which are due for servicing. But the airline could not afford to pay for maintenance and so was left with only one aircraft available for service.

ACM Prajin said yesterday he will meet the airline's management next week to discuss the problem.

He said the Transport Ministry will coordinate with Business Air and other airlines to bring home the stranded passengers.

Mr Somchai said Anucha Tivari, the chief executive of Business Air Centre, had told the department earlier that the airline would accept licence revocation if it could not solve its liquidity problems by Thursday.

But the department had not made any moves as yet because there were steps to follow.

On its Facebook page, Business Air clarified its position on the situation and blamed the DCA for its current problem.

It said the airline was fully prepared to operate Flight 8B868 from Suvarnabhumi to Incheon on Friday, but the flight was suspended by the department.

It claimed the suspension is ordered because of the company's unpaid debts with Aerothai.

The DCA has sent two letters instructing the airline to pay the debts to Aerothai or face flight suspension and revocation of its commercial licence.

The airline said it was in dispute in court with Aerothai over the amount of the unpaid debts. The department could not use this as a basis to suspend its flight operations.

Business Air said a complaint was lodged with the Administrative Court on Tuesday which agreed to hold a hearing tomorrow. It said the department should have waited until the court brought down a ruling.

The airline criticised the department for its lack of plans to handle the situation after it enforced the suspension order. This had affected passenger confidence in the airline and the aviation industry as a whole.

Business Air has an Air Operator Licence and an Air Operator Certificate to carry out international air operations.

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