Military airspace open to airlines

The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) has agreed to a proposal for the flexible use of military airspace, allowing commercial flights through restricted areas, the Aeronautical Radio of Thailand (Aerothai) says.

"Over the past 10 years, Aerothai and the air force have fine-tuned ideas and worked together to write an operations plan to allow commercial flights through restricted airspace during certain times," she said.

She said the air traffic control system technology will play a significant role in air traffic management and bring about greater flexibility in airspace use.

She said a joint civilian-military committee and working panels will be set up to work out the details of the flexible airspace use.

Thasapol Bearawell, of the airline Thai AirAsia, welcomed the move, saying flexible airspace use will save time and fuel because airliners will not have to take detours to avoid restricted military airspace.

"It is time to talk about economic benefits and security. I think the need for restricted military zones is fading away. If authorities are concerned about security, they could allow only Thai commercial airlines," he said.

Mr Thasapol said the competitive airline industry has high costs, especially for fuel, and that civilian-military cooperation in airspace management would help improve efficiency and minimise the costs of air travel.

He said with the flexible use of airspace in place, pilots will not have to make a detour around Phitsanulok when they fly from Bangkok to Khon Kaen.

A source in Thai Airways International (THAI) also voiced agreement with the move, saying it will greatly contribute to air traffic management and growth in the aviation industry.

Citing research findings in the US and Europe, Ms Sarinee said Asean will become one of the main hubs of the global economy, so countries in the region will need to strengthen regional cooperation in air traffic management and create "seamless airspace management".

She said Aerothai has developed the "Seamless Asean Sky" system, which is designed to improve air traffic management and increase flexibility in airspace use.

She noted that in the next five to 10 years the advanced technology will make more flexible-use zones possible. She also said Thailand estimates there will be 670,000 flights a year in 2014 with the possibility the number could jump to 800,000. By 2017, the number of flights is expected to increase to 1 million a year.

To keep pace with growing air travel demand, Aerothai has developed and invested in air navigation services.

"Within the next four to five years Aerothai will become Asean's top provider. It will also push Thailand to become the [region's] aviation hub," she said.

According to Ms Sarinee, Aerothai is also determined to push for the development of a master plan for air transport and management by all parties concerned. Currently, each agency has its own master plan.

She said National Council for Peace and Order deputy chief ACM Prajin Juntong has stressed the need for such a plan to materialise.

Five agencies will be brought together to work out how to draft the plan — the Airports of Thailand, the Department of Civil Aviation, THAI, the Civil Aviation Training Centre and Aerothai.

The agencies will work under the supervision of a national-level committee chaired by ACM Prajin.

She said the process needs to involve a high-level committee because other agencies such as the Defence, Commerce, and Tourism and Sports ministries will also be brought in at some stage.

"Aerothai is ready to act as a link to make this a national agenda item. For example, the expansions of airports, investment in equipment and in personnel development must be in line," she said.

Transport permanent secretary Soithip Traisuth said the development of a master plan involving air transport is unprecedented and should receive the country's full support.

She said she will call a meeting with the five agencies in question and other related agencies, but noted that it is highly likely the five agencies will be asked to draw up the plan themselves.

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