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THAI assured of ‘no change’

Newly-appointed Transport Minister ACM Sukampol Suwannathat vowed yesterday to press ahead with the Pheu Thai Party’s transport policies and gave an assurance that he would not introduce a management change at Thai Airways International.

“The urgent agenda here is the electric-train construction as well as the expedition of a Bt1.6-billion budget for fixing roads after the floods,” Sukampol said on his first day in office.

He insisted that the planned 10 electric-train lines with a flat ticket cost of Bt20 was a viable proposition.

Meanwhile, he asked for some time to review the tasks commissioned by the previous government before delegating work to his two deputies and making a priority list of things he had to do. He also promised to review the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority’s plan to acquire 4,000 NGV-driven buses – a project that suffered from a series of revisions during the Abhisit government.

He will also consider whether free bus and train services should be continued, saying that the number of beneficiaries is small. The services, aimed at lowering the cost of living for the poor, are due to end in September.

With regard to the national carrier, Sukampol said he had no plan to appoint a new chief for Thai Airways International, quashing rumours that incumbent THAI president Piyasvasti Amranand could be forced to leave his job. However, a representative from the Royal Thai Air Force will be appointed to the board of directors.

IMPRESSIVE PERFORMANCE

Sukampol said he was not personally acquainted with Piyasvasti, but the chief’s performance had been impressive, so the ministry would seek no change. He pointed out that Piyasvasti was not appointed to his post by a particular person. Rather, he was appointed through an open selection process.

Piyasvasti, a former energy minister, won the contest for the THAI presidency during the Abhisit government. There were rumours that he could be forced out following the government change.

Sukampol also showed support for THAI’s pending business plans, to set up Thai Tiger Airways and Thai Wing. He said regulatory obstacles would be cleared if the plans benefitted the country. The Civil Aviation Department is reportedly reluctant to issue a license to Thai Tiger Airways, while former minister Sophon Saram has repeatedly expressed worries over the future of budget airline Nok Air.

“Whether the new low-cost airlines will cannibalise Nok Air depends on their business plans. Nok Air operates on a limited scale while the low-cost airlines will open up new markets. I will need to consider the business plans in detail, and if they are well substantiated, there is no reason to block them,” Sukampol said.

THAI is planning a joint venture with Singapore’s Tiger Airways to operate an ultra-low cost airline, to woo back domestic passengers from Thai AirAsia. Delays to the Thai Tiger Airways plan prompted THAI to create Thai Wing as an internal unit.

Thai Wing is expected to take off in June 2012, initially with seven aircraft for operations on nine routes.

THAI’s executive vice president for strategy and business development Chokchai Panyayong said that the business plans were now ready for the new minister’s approval.

In a related development, DBS Research has lowered its profit projections for Thai Airways International this year and in 2012, to reflect the softer-than-expected operating environment and an increase in operating expenses.

In 2011, the broker expects THAI to show a net loss of Bt1.7 billion, against earlier forecasts of a Bt2-billion net profit. For 2012, the earning forecast was cut by 36 per cent to Bt5 billion. THAI reported a net loss of Bt7.9 billion in the second quarter of this year.

Meanwhile, Industry Minister Wannarat Charnnukul said yesterday that he was ready to discuss and listen to all suggestions from the private sector about industrial issues such as hiking the minimum wage and floating the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

He will discuss the Industry Ministry’s clear policy after the government declares its policies, he said.

He expects the government to conclude its policies this week. Then it has to report the policies to Parliament within 15 days.

Office of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Promotion (OSMEP) director-general Yuthasak Supasorn said the new industry minister would call a meeting of all agencies under the ministry starting tomorrow, to deliver his policies.

OSMEP plans to discuss problems associated with hiking the minimum wage, as well as schemes to enhance the readiness of SMEs for implementation of the Asean Economic Community.

Source: The Nation

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