CAAT given one month to probe airline strike
Pilots, airline could face legal action
Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith has given the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) one month to investigate Sunday's strike by Nok Air pilots and its consequences and to write a complete report on the incident.
The instruction came after the airline submitted its report on the strike that resulted in flight cancellations, the firing of one pilot, suspension of two others and an inquiry against seven more.
According to Nok Air, more than 3,000 passengers from 17 flights were affected by the work stoppage, half of them were waiting for flights at Don Mueang airport.
The CAAT is expected to complete its inspection of Nok Air's report by Tuesday and proceed with its work so it can conclude its investigation into the case in a month, said Mr Arkhom.
If the pilots involved are at fault they will face criminal and administrative measures as set out in the Department of Civil Aviation's 2009-2010 announcements, including a maximum fine of 50,000 baht, he said.
If accusations that Nok Air pilots were forced to exceed the standard limit on flying hours are proved to be true, Mr Arkhom said, the airline would also face punitive action ranging from a warning to licence revocation.
If the airline didn't have enough pilots to keep up with its flight schedule, it should have considered cutting the number of flights, said Mr Arkhom. The CAAT will look into the flying hours record of all pilots involved.
The CAAT will probe whether Nok Air followed international standards of service and management, he said.
Nok Air had previously mentioned its organisational restructuring, claimed to be an attempt to meet the standards maintained in other countries, he said.
If that was only a bid to resolve internal problems, the airline may be allowed to continue the process.
As for the passengers affected by the flight cancellations, he said, the CAAT will also look into whether affected passengers received reasonable compensation as stated in regulations regarding airlines' responsibilities in compensating passengers in the event of unavoidable flight cancellations.
"What has to be improved here is the balance between the number of pilots and the number of flights because such an imbalance may results in [even more] flight delays," said Mr Arkhom.
The minister said he also ordered the CAAT to conduct a survey on the capacity of privately owned aviation schools and report back to him in a month to assess whether the country is really encountering a shortage of commercial pilots as a result of a substantial growth in the airline business.
Nok Air chief executive Patee Sarasin said the airline had given a complete explanation about the flight cancellations and submitted documents to support the explanation within the three-day deadline set by the Transport Ministry.
Mr Patee said the airline expected to submit a contingency plan for further emergencies such as the work stoppage by next month.
"As for the affected passengers, Nok Air is paying full attention to them and encouraging them to contact the airline's team assigned to take care of affected passengers," he said.