Patee denies pilots have quit Nok Air
Chief promises normal service from March 1
Nok Air chief executive Patee Sarasin has confirmed the airline will resume normal operations next week, denying a rumour that recent flight cancellations were caused by pilots quitting.
Mr Patee said Tuesday that Nok Air will resume flights as normal on March 1 with about 30 new pilots.
He insisted no pilots have left the company.
"Flight cancellations will continue until the end of this month. The cancellations are caused by the uncertain flying hours of pilots since Feb 14 where Nok Air has now tried its best to make them comply with regulations of the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand [CAAT]. The problem has nothing to do with insufficient pilots," he said.
He said Nok Air now has 192 pilots. In March, an additional 20-30 new pilots will start work with the airline which will be adequate for the number of aircraft and flights.
As for an inquiry into the remaining seven pilots after a recent strike, Mr Patee said two more had been dismissed with compensation payments.
Pilots' sudden absence on Feb 14 affected 17 Nok Air flights and about 3,000 travellers.
Nok Air claimed the Feb 14 work stoppage resulted from the dissatisfaction of some pilots who failed a new aviation management audit based on standards set by the European Aviation Safety Agency and the International Air Transport Association.
Following the incident, one pilot was earlier fired, two suspended and inquiries launched against seven others.
Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said 15 inspectors from the CAAT have also been monitoring the flying hours of Nok Air pilots.
Mr Arkhom said the inspection was carried out in line with international standards to restore confidence among customers. The results will be released this week.
"If pilots are found to exceed the standard flying time limits, legal action will be brought against both the pilots and the airline," he said.
As for the shortfall in pilots on Saturday, Mr Arkhom said Nok Air told authorities they will charter aircraft until the end of this month and also reduce the frequency of some flights to regain credibility with customers.
"High competition in the airline business has resulted in competition for pilots. Therefore, each airline must have reserve pilots. Next time, if airlines ask to increase their flights, the ministry will consider how many pilots they have as well," he added.
Meanwhile, Nok Air has cancelled some scheduled domestic services, with some round-trip flights to Trang, Surat Thani and Khon Kaen suspended from Tuesday through to Sunday.
Tuesday alone, the airline announced the cancellation of 20 flights. Unlike the Feb 14 incident, no commotions among passengers were reported at airports.
According to Nok Air, two flights between Bangkok and Trang -- DD7406 and DD7407 -- have been suspended until Sunday.
This cuts daily round trips to the province to four flights, down from six.
Trang governor Detrat Simasiri said the flight cancellations are hurting tourism in the province which is now in the high season.
He said holiday-makers who have booked tickets face inconvenience as they have to land at other airports such as Krabi and Hat Yai while those who plan to visit Krabi may switch to other destinations.
Mr Detrat said he hoped Nok Air will be able to solve its problems as soon as possible.
Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul said the airline's flight cancellations have had little impact on passengers who are notified in advance and offered assistance.