Recent warnings regarding aviation safety from ICAO put a hurt on the Thai aviation market as some nearby countries imposed limits on flights, aiming to reduce risk of incidents. Those problems were cleared up in the short term but ICAO will be back in 2016 to conduct a larger audit of the aviation infrastructure in Thailand and the country is beginning its preparations now, partly but suggesting it would cut the “open skies” arrangement it has offered since 2001. This move would limit the number of flights in and out of Thai airspace as the country seeks to regain control of the situation. Full details of the plan are expected to be presented to government authorities later this year.
Transport Minister Prajin Juntong is quoted in the Bangkok Post explaining the rationale for the move:
Our sky cannot provide space for more flights. To ensure safety and prevent aircraft collisions, we must limit the use of our sky, manage flight schedules and re-organise flights to times of light traffic to prevent congestion in some periods. The problem must be solved quickly.
The open skies policy has seen massive increases in the number of flights and visitors to Thailand, supporting the country’s tourism industry and helping to buoy its financial status. It also means the system is overloaded, bending quite close to the breaking point. The new Suvarnabhumi airport is already operating over capacity, handling 25%+ more flights and 10%+ more passengers than it was designed for. Many flights from LCCs were shifted back to the old Don Mueang airport to alleviate the load at Suvarnabhumi but that has not been enough.
Open skies operations in Thailand have also attracted a large number of airlines to operate 5th Freedom routes from Bangkok. In some cases the routes are flown to solve political issues: Eva and China Airlines both have several flights operating from Taiwan to Europe via Bangkok so as to avoid overflying mainland China. In other cases it is a matter of aircraft loads, bringing tourists to Thailand and continuing on to other, nearby destinations with additional passengers. For travelers these routes are often an opportunity to find cheaper flights and a variety of in-flight experiences. But, as is now being acknowledged by authorities, they cannot operate without limits.
This effort to cull the open skies operations is far different from similar effort being spearheaded in the USA to limit access to its airports from Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. In that scenario economics are the driving factor, not aviation safety and operational security.
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