Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ministry to turn garbage into gas

YUTHANA PRAIWAN

Energy policymakers hope to turn garbage into gas under an ambitious programme aimed at developing over 10,000 small-scale biogas programmes nationwide over the next five years. The programme, run by the Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency Department, focuses on tapping methane generated from solid waste into a cooking-gas substitute for LPG.

Pisamai Sathienyawon, a senior scientist and a DEDE consultant, said shopping mall food courts, large restaurants and fresh markets would all be targeted for participation in the programme.

The food court at the Energy Ministry became the first project under the programme last year.

The DEDE now plans to provide machinery and equipment for producing biogas free of charge to 400 public schools in Greater Bangkok next year. By 2011, support would be offered to 1,400 schools nationwide, at an initial cost of 60,000 baht per school.

But each project is expected to break even within just two years, thanks to the energy savings generated from biogas.

The government had previously focused on large-scale biogas projects processing at over five tonnes a day of solid waste.

Processing plants, typically located at factories and large communities, generate electricity with financial support from the government and incentive privileges from the Board of Investment.

The DEDE project however aims at a much smaller scale, processing 10 to 20 kilogrammes of waste per day to generate methane of 2.5 cubic metres. The methane in turn is equivalent to two kilogrammes of cooking gas.

Mrs Pisamai said private individuals interested in joining the programme could apply for technical supports free of charge from the government.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) recently joined the DEDE's biogas programme to help fresh markets reduce their costs as well as solid waste that would otherwise have to go to local landfills.

The Marketing Organisation for Farmers and wholesale markets also will participate in the programme.

''[The BMA] approached us as they have problems coping with the huge amount of solid waste generated each day,'' Mrs Pisamai said.

The BMA also incurs huge costs for waste management, paying 1,000 baht per tonne to private contractors.

Mrs Pisamai said the DEDE would eventually expand the biogas programme to include shopping centres, office buildings and other commercial facilities.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Thailand seeks coal power

Italian-Thai ready to seek IPP business

POST REPORTERS

Italian-Thai Development Plc (ITD) is preparing to join the next bidding round for independent power producer (IPP) licences, with a focus on coal-fired electricity despite public resistance to the fuel because of its environmental impact.

The country's largest construction company said in a statement yesterday that it would propose a coal-fired power with a total capacity of 700 megawatts on the bank of the Bangpakong River.

The SET-listed contractor said it was being advised by a leading consulting firm in the field of coal utilisation.

If it received an IPP licence, ITD said that it would work closely with the International Energy Agency (IEA) and its London-based Clean Coal Centre (www.iea-coal.org.uk), to help ensure that the plant would have the lowest emission levels and the least environmental impact possible.

The company said it could achieve minimal environmental impact on the local community through the use of supercritical boiler technology. It said the advanced technology maximised efficiency and resulted in lower carbon dioxide emissions because less coal would be consumed. As well, dust and heat would be recycled within the plant.

ITD said it was currently negotiating with top global boiler manufacturers and premium-grade coal suppliers.

The projected emission reductions would entitle the plant to apply for CO2 credits based on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

However, an ITD executive acknowledged that obtaining public acceptance, given that activists and communities had successfully stopped other coal-fired plants, would be the biggest challenge.

An Energy Ministry source estimated that a plant of the size proposed by ITD would cost almost US$700 million for construction and equipment.

The second round of IPP bids must be submitted by Oct 19. ITD recently set ITD Power Co to spearhead its diversification into the electricity business.

ITD holds a 15% stake in the Nam Theun 2 hydroelectricity project in Laos. Other shareholders are Thailand's Egco Group with 25%, Electricite{aac} du France with 35% and the Lao government with 25%. The 1,250 MW plant is scheduled to begin commercial operations in 2009.

ITD also has ventured into mining by acquiring the licence from Asia Pacific Potash Co to operate a potash mine in Udon Thani province. Operations could begin next year if community opposition can be overcome.

ITD shares closed yesterday on the SET at 7.60 baht, unchanged in trade worth 82 million baht.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Thai Oil expects record profits in 2008

Global supply constraints persist

ARANEE JAIIMSIN

Thai Oil Plc, the country's largest oil refinery, expects record profits in 2008, with sales up by 35% from this year, thanks to its additional capacity squeezed from existing facilities, according to managing director Viroj Mavichak. ''We recorded the highest net profit of 16 billion baht in 2006, and now we look forward to seeing a better figure next year, but I can't give you the number,'' Mr Viroj said yesterday.

He said the optimistic projection depended on an average refining margin of US$6 per barrel in 2008.

''As you know, refinery capacity across the world expanded more slowly than demand, and we faced constraints on oil supply. [We expect] this to continue throughout next year,'' he said.

Thaioil targeted net profits in 2007 at 13 billion baht and average gross refining margins of $6 per barrel.

The company plans to upgrade its crude distillation unit, which is scheduled to be completed by year-end. The revamp would help it increase refinery capacity.

Thaioil plans to begin the final revamp of its crude distillation unit 3 (CDU-3) from Oct 6 to Dec 10, now 87% complete.

After the programme finishes, its distillation capacity would increase to 165,000 barrels per day from 115,000 barrels per day. This would enable Thaioil to lift its combined distillation capacity to 275,000 barrels per day from 220,000 barrels currently.

However, during the final upgrading programme, the company would need to shut down operations of CDU-3, which would reduce crude distillation output by 30% this year.

To achieve a 67% utilisation rate last month, the company ran at 110% capacity to produce 100 million litres of diesel, 40 million litres of jet fuel and 540,000 litres of residue. The facilities were undergoing maintenance last month.

Another TOP subsidiary, Thai Lube Base Plc, will also operate at a higher intake to supply additional feedstock to Thaioil during the bottleneck period.

Some production units would need to revamp operations including the continuous catalyst regeneration platform unit and the hydrocracking unit.

Other facilities up for renovation include mixed xylenes, which would boost production to 1,600 tonnes per day from 1,300 tonnes at present.

The company also hopes to earn higher income in 2008 by increasing capacity in Thai Paraxylene, its petrochemical unit to 489,000 tonnes a year in 2008 from 350,000 tonnes currently.

TPX also produced byproducts including 177,000 tonnes per year of benzene and 144,000 tonnes per year of toluene. The price of PX and byproducts would likely rise to between $800 and $1,000 a tonne.

Thaioil already has agreements to secure its sales of paraxylenes with three clients: Siam Mitsui PTA Co Ltd, Indorama Plc and British Petroleum.

According to Phatra Securities research, due to its competitive costs, Thaioil's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) margin would be about 13.2% versus the global average of 7.6%, with next year's earnings at around 11.2%.

The refiner's net profit 2008 is projected by the brokerage to reach 19.87 billion baht.

Shares of Thaioil (TOP) closed yesterday on the Stock Exchange of Thailand at 86.50 baht, down 1.50 baht, in trade worth 1.75 billion baht.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Thai shipper to buy 3 ships for US$123.8m from Vietnam


25-SEP-2007 Intellasia | Bloomberg
Sep 25, 2007 - 7:01:00 AM


Thoresen Thai Agencies Pcl, Thailand's second-biggest shipping company, plans to buy three vessels for US$123.8 million to expand its fleet.

The company's wholly owned unit Thoresen Shipping Singapore Ltd has signed a contract with Vietnam Shipbuilding Industry Group to build three bulk carriers. The first ship will be delivered in October, 2010, while the second and third will be delivered in February, 2011 and June, 2011, the company said in a filing to the Stock Exchange of Thailand.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Thailand's production expands 2.5%, led by exports

SANTAN SANTIVIMOLNAT

Local production of automobiles excluding motorcycles in the first eight months of this year rose 2.47% year-on-year to 816,235 units, according to Suraphong Phaisitphattanapong, a spokesman for the Federation of Thai Industries' automobile industry club.

Despite a poor local economy, exports of automobile products from Thailand were healthy with shipments growing almost 20% through August.

Vehicles for export totalled 430,296 units or 52.7% of total vehicle production, he said.

Although the number of vehicles produced for export increased 21.6% year-on-year, those produced for local sales declined 12.8% to 385,939 units.

Production of one-ton pickup trucks, the country's best-selling vehicles, rose 2.85% year-on-year to 597,183 units while production of passenger cars for the period increased 1.76% to 203,641 units.

Of the total one-ton pickups produced, 571,559 units were pure pickups and the remaining 25,624 units were passenger pickup vehicles.

According to Mr Suraphong, the value of exports of fully assembled vehicles in the first eight months was 188.09 billion baht, up 21.1% from the previous year.

Auto engine exports increased 12.1% to 6.52 billion baht while those of assembly kits rose 18.8% to 68.83 billion baht and spare parts increased 36.6% to 4.68 billion baht.

Exports of vehicles, engines, assembly kits and spare parts in the first eight months increased 20.5% year-on-year to a total of 268.13 billion baht.

Production of motorcycles in the first eight months dropped 6.16% to 2.24 million units.

Exports of motorcycles for the period totalled 1.19 million units worth 17.04 billion baht, up 18.3% in volume and 7.2% in value. Exports of assembly kits rose 13.3% to 9.21 billion baht and spare parts increased 83.4% to 652.41 million baht.

Exports of motorcycles, assembly kits and spare parts increased 10.35% to a total of 26.9 billion baht.

Exports of all automobile products increased 19.5% to 295.03 billion baht.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Chinese Tourists Arrival to Thailand Would Reach 3 Million by 2010



/PRZOOM - Newswire/ - Thailand is aiming to attract one Million Chinese tourists in 2007 and estimates suggest that Chinese tourist arrivals to Thailand would reach three Million by 2010.

Delhi, New Delhi, India, 07/29/2007 – Tourism sector in Thailand is primarily contributing towards Thailand’s present economic growth and is expected to continue being a major growth driver in future as well. Thailand is looking forward to attract as many as one Million Chinese tourists in 2007 and estimates suggest that Chinese tourist arrivals to Thailand would reach three Million by 2010.

With the intention of attracting more number of Chinese tourists, Thai government is taking several appropriate measures. The government has recently decided to issue complimentary visas to Chinese tourists.

Apart from that, starting from June to September 2007, the Thailand National Tourism Bureau would also introduce Green Travel packages to target Chinese tourists and would organize special tours for senior citizens in China. Phuket and Bali Island would also organize a variety of activities for Chinese family tourists.

China with a total population of 1.3 Billion has become an increasingly fascinating market for tourism industry across globe, as there is a noticeable rise in total number Chinese who travel outside the country. This scenario can be attributed to China’s rapid economic growth as well as to its liberal reform and policies. In 2006 China was the largest source market for tourists across Asia, with as many as 34.52 Million Chinese traveling outsides the country, an increase of 11.27% over 2005.

A recent report by RNCOS, “Opportunities in Thailand Tourism Industry (2007-2009)", also points out China as a top tourist generating country for Thailand. The report maintains that tourist arrivals from China would remain influential throughout the forecast period (2007-2011).

The report also highlights the efforts taken by Thai government in attracting large number of tourists from China as well as mentions the MoU signed between Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports, and the China National Tourism Administration to boost travel between the two countries.

As per the report the number of international tourists visiting Thailand would increase to 14.88 Million in 2007 and a further 20.03 Million in 2011.

The research report also addresses some other interesting issues and facts which are critical for success in Thailand’s Tourism industry like emerging trends and future outlook of the industry, factors driving the industry as well as opportunities and challenges faced by the industry.

About RNCOS E-Services Pvt Ltd.

RNCOS, incorporated in the year 2002, is an industry research firm. It has a team of industry experts who analyze data collected from credible sources. They provide industry insights and analysis that helps corporations to take timely and accurate business decision in today's globally competitive environment.

Thai exports hit record high

Thailand's exports amounting to nearly US$14 billion last month, hit a record high with an 18 per cent rise over the same period last year while a total of about US$ 97 billion was earned from exports during the last eight months this year, according to Commerce Minister Krirkkrai Jirapaet.

Such positive trade values had occurred in spite of the stronger baht currency and exporters' complaints of difficulties in dealing with world export markets, the commerce minister said.

Of last month's US$14 billions export figures, farm goods categories marked a 12 per cent increase, industrial goods marked a 17 per cent increase and other export categories made a 23 per cent rise.

Thailand had already earned an estimated Bt97 billion in goods export over the last eight months, marking a 17 per cent increase over the corresponding period last year and a Bt 6.4 billion trade surplus.

The commerce minister said, each of the remaining four months of this year was projected to earn an average of US$12 billion in export value.

Meanwhile, Thailand had spent US$13 billion on import goods last month, accounting for a 14 per cent increase from the same period last year. The import goods ranged from vehicles, fuel and consumer products to military hardware.

The country had spent an estimated US$91 billion on imported goods during the last eight months this year, marking a 6 per cent rise over the corresponding period last year.

Though Thai export markets in the United States might have slowed down under sustained global economic recessions, the Japanese and Indian export markets remained promising towards the future, the commerce minister said.

Thailand currently has honorary trade consultants in 44 countries, plus trade attaches in 56 countries worldwide. Those trade consultants and diplomats continued to penetrate up to 100 world markets for Thai export goods. (TNA)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Spotbeams & WiMAX Unwire SE Asia

A combination of WiMax and satellite will beam wireless broadband to one of the most remote corners of Vietnam, reports EE Times.

Working with the state-owned Vietnam Data Communication Company and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Intel said it had delivered Internet access to Ta Van, a village in mountainous northern Vietnam near the border with China. It receives a spot beam from the IPSTAR satellite and distributes it throughout the village via an omni-directional antenna using a 3.3GHz WiMax base station from Airspan Networks.

The pilot project has blanketed Ta Van which has what could be “the worst communications infrastructure in the country”. The 2Mbps downlink and a 512Kps uplink Internet access, should pave the way for voice-over-Internet protocol and other data services.

The IPSTAR satellite, operated by Thailand’s Shin Satellite, is the world’s largest broadband satellite.

It currently has a footprint covering 14 Asia-Pacific countries, including Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Australia and New Zealand.

Users in Ta Van are now enjoying Internet services free, but its backers believe the WiMax/satellite technique is commercially feasible even for relatively cash-strapped regions. According to Intel’s, calculations, the service could be offered for about $25 per end user connection per month, and could also bring in revenues by allowing communities to set up businesses, such as Internet cafes for tourists.

Another WiMAX deployment in Vietnam was set up in Lao Cai, located in a mountainous area of northern Vietnam, abutting the Chinese border. An Alvarion BreezeMAX base station and some 20 WiMAX fixed-access client devices were scattered around the city. The BreezeMAX antenna was installed 70 meters above the ground on a local tower, with the base station connected to a fiber-optic backhaul service.

The second-phase WiMAX rollout will link the WiMAX base station to an IPStar satellite. The second phase is expected to be completed in October. The new IPSTAR maXX allows IPSTAR to be efficiently deployed in multiple-user broadband environments such as for Community Internet Centers, Multi-dwelling Units (MDU), Internet Cafes, university campuses and corporate offices.

The hope is that traditional industries such as agriculture and forestry can use the new telecoms infrastructure to grow their business and perhaps attract more cross-border trade with China. Another hope is to attract foreign investment to the region.

Related DailyWireless stories on Space and Satellites include; Inmarsat F2 Launched, IPSTAR Spotbeam Sat Launched, Intelsat & Panamsat to Merge, Global Satellite Providers Now Three, NGO Emergency Response, Hurricane/Tsuanmi Satellite Access, Ring of Fire Earthquake, and iPSTAR-1 & The Global HotSpot.

Ikea delays Thai plans as government moves to tighten foreign ownership laws

Last Updated: 12:51am BST 23/09/2007

WHAT price flatpack furniture in Bangkok? Ikea, the Swedish retail group, has put plans to expand into Thailand firmly on the shelf amid an increasingly uncertain environment for multinational investors.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal that the lingering after-effects of last year's military coup and a series of tougher laws on foreign ownership have prompted Ikea to postpone a move into one of south-east Asia's most important economies.

The delay reflects growing nervousness among overseas investors following Draconian revisions to Thailand's Foreign Business Act and the publication of draft legislation covering the retail sector which may have a serious impact on Tesco and Carrefour, the French supermarkets group.

Since the ousting of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister and current owner of Manchester City Football Club, a year ago this week, the Thai government has proposed changes to the definition of a "foreign" company to mean one which is not controlled or majority-owned by Thais. It has also vowed to stamp out the use of nominee shareholders for the subsidiaries of multinationals operating there, alarming the many overseas firms which have largely relied on the use of such structures.

"The foreign business ownership laws have always been complicated but there has always been a measure of understanding," said Alastair Henderson, managing partner of Herbert Smith, the law firm, in Bangkok.

"The latest proposals have meant great uncertainty for companies about the regulatory climate they are going to face and whether they will be able to retain control of their investments."

An Ikea spokesman said the Thai market "is still under evaluation" by Inter Ikea Systems, which owns the home improvement retailer's concept and trademark. An unnamed franchisee, which will further investigate the market, has been selected, she added.

The toughening of Thailand's foreign ownership laws could affect a string of Britain's biggest companies, including British American Tobacco, Alliance Boots and HSBC.

The south-east Asian country's interim government, which has said it is likely to hold democratic elections in December, has held numerous talks with officials from the European Commission and overseas chambers of commerce stationed in Bangkok.

One official said its actions were evidence of "a clear protectionist backlash" and could lead to Thailand being "cut out of the global economy".

"The government responded two weeks ago to a letter sent months ago [by the overseas chambers] which alleged that Thailand was in breach of its World Trade Organisation obligations," said the official.

"The government denied this, saying the amendments were 'not inconsistent' with its obligations."

Among the foreign investors with most at stake from a more hostile Thai regime is Tesco, which operates 400 stores and employs more than 28,000 people in Thailand.

"We continue to invest in the country, opening new stores and giving more Thai people the opportunity to benefit from our low prices and quality products," said a spokesman for Britain's biggest retailer. "However, we are concerned that the current uncertainty may deter new foreign investors."

According to a briefing document prepared by the trade section of the British embassy in Thailand, the number of British investment projects submitted to Thailand's Board of Investment has tailed off so far this year compared with 2006.

The new legal environment has been criticised by some Thai politicians worried that foreign investors might leave or, like Ikea, put investment decisions on hold. Assembling flatpack furniture might be a while off yet.

Information appearing on telegraph.co.uk is the copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited and must not be reproduced in any medium without licence.

Thai-Japanese relations are built on common values and friendship that date back more than 600 years

AN ENDURING PARTNERSHIP

Thai-Japanese relations are built on common values and friendship that date back more than 600 years, writes SONGPOL KAOPATUMTIP

It was a fateful meeting with the late Dr Tesaburo Nichigawa in Tokyo 20 years ago that changed Somchai Chakhatrakarn's life. On the final year of his scholarship programme at Tokyo University of Agriculture, Somchai was looking for a new scholarship to further his studies in Japan. He learned that Dr Nichigawa had set up a private fund for needy university students, and sent his application.

"I met him in a small house where he was looked after by his niece," Somchai recalled. "I later learned that he had sold his old house and other properties to provide scholarships for poor students."

The elderly lecturer took an immediate liking to the young student from Thailand, and subsequently became his mentor. Though naturally kind and helpful, Dr Nichigawa was a strict disciplinarian. When Somchai visited him in hospital, the ailing lecturer gave him a dressing-down for skipping his class. "You should be in school," he said.

As Somchai stepped out of the room, he heard a faint voice from behind: "Thank you for coming."

Two decades on, Somchai still cherishes these fond memories. A decade of life in Japan has, in fact, shaped his successful career as agricultural science lecturer and director of the Institute of East Asian Studies at Thammasat University in Bangkok.

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe are all smiles after signing the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement in Tokyo in April.

"What impresses me most about Japan is the high quality of life and services. Japanese people are hard-working, tolerant, highly disciplined and responsible - not only for themselves but for society," he said.

"On a personal level, the two peoples have a lot in common, whether in religion, ways of life, culture and traditions, their cheerful and friendly demeanour and - more importantly - the existence of namjai (good heart). This makes the relationship between Thailand and Japan really unique," continued Somchai.

Such reflections on friendship are numerous as the two countries this week celebrate 120 years of diplomatic relations. A long list of events, including talks and seminars, exhibitions as well as cultural and musical performances have been held in Thailand and Japan since January this year to mark this auspicious occasion.

In fact, the history of Thai-Japanese relations - in terms of politics, culture and trade - goes back more than 600 years.

Merchant ships from the Ryukyu Islands (now Okinawa Prefecture) came to Southeast Asia as early as the 14th Century, when the Sukhothai kings ruled what is now Thailand. Historical records show that there was trade between Ryukhu and the Sukhothai kingdom during the latter half of the 14th Century. The famous alcoholic drink awamori, for which Okinawa is famous today, is believed to have been developed from distilling techniques introduced from Thailand during the early years of contact.

"In fact, Thai rice is still used to make awamori in Okinawa," explained Mr Kazuo Shibata, who heads the Japan Information Service in Bangkok. "Japanese rice does not give the same flavour."

Fruitful connections expanded with the advent of the Tokugawa shogunate in Japan and the rise of the Ayutthaya kingdom. So-called Red Seal ships, carrying a writ marked with the shogun's red seal, were dispatched to Ayutthaya. Gifts and official correspondence were traded through the Red Seal envoys.

One of the legendary figures at that time was Nagamasa Yamada, who came to Ayutthaya with a group of Japanese mercenaries.

As leader of the Japanese community in Ayutthaya, Nagamasa earned the trust of King Songtham, who bestowed him the right to levy and collect taxes from ships entering port there. Although he died of poison, Nagamasa had won a place in history. Japanese history textbooks and historical novels eulogised him as a national hero.

Later periods of trade were not based on formal relations between the two countries, and contacts gradually faded away under the policy of isolation imposed by the Tokugawa shogunate. But not for long.

Close ties resumed with the arrival of western powers to colonise the free nations of Asia in the 19th Century. Japan avoided colonisation and established itself as a modern country with the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Around the same time, the Kingdom of Siam (as Thailand was then known) also modernised and stayed independent under the rule of King Chulalongkorn the Great (Rama 5). It was during this crucial time of change that the two countries officially commenced diplomatic relations with the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce on 26 September 1887. It was the first agreement the Meiji government signed to establish diplomatic relations with a Southeast Asian nation.

Mutually Beneficial Relations

There are a number of reasons that make Thai-Japanese relations very special, according to Mr Hideaki Kobayashi, the ambassador of Japan to the kingdom of Thailand.

"First and foremost, the Thai Royal Family and the Imperial Family of Japan have always been very close. Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan have visited Thailand eight itmes already since the Emperor was still the Crown Prince. This is the highest number of visits by the Emperor to any country," said Ambassador Kobayashi. Members of both Royal Families have visited each other's country often as well.

"Secondly, the bilateral relationship has always been based on mutual benefits," said the ambassador.

In the past 50 years, there has been a very large amount of Japanese investment in Thailand. In 2005, the total amount of Japanese investment approved by the Board of Investment of Thailand amounted to more than 1.5 trillion baht, or about 40 percent of the total foreign direct investment (FDI) that Thailand received from all over the world. This large amount of private investment from Japan has contributed not only to the economic growth of Thailand but also the growing number of people in employment, explained the ambassador. According to the Japanese Chamber of Commerce (JCC), its member companies now employ nearly half a million Thais.

And thanks to the growing travel industry, more and more Japanese are familiar with Thailand as a great place to visit. Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles and the Thai people are very accepting of foreign visitors. With such a warm welcome, more than 1.3 million Japanese visited Thailand last year, more than any other country.

Over 100,000 Thais visited Japan last year. Their number is expected to increase this year, partly due to the stronger Thai currency and mainly because of the greater Thai public interest in Japanese culture, food, music and many natural attractions that Japan has to offer.

Due to Thailand's recent rapid economic development, grant assistance to the country has largely ended. However, Thailand is still one of the most important recipient countries for the Japanese government's Official Development Assistance (ODA) in the field of technical assistance and yen loans.

But somewhere down the road, as neighbouring countries emerge as attractive sources for Japanese investment, how will Thailand be affected?

Economist Kitti Limsakul believes both countries will benefit from the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement, or JTEPA, which was signed in Tokyo last April by Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe.

"The JTEPA is not a free trade agreement. It's mainly about repositioning the two economic partners so they can tap into new markets in the region and beyond," said the Chulalongkorn University lecturer. For example, enterprises in Thailand will be able to import materials from Japan, making them into semi-processed and finished products for export to neighbouring countries, Japan or elsewhere.

The Asean Free Trade Area (Afta) alone comprises a vast market of over 500 million people. It is an important consideration for Japanese industries.

Under JTEPA, Tokyo and Bangkok will decrease tariffs on more than 90 percent of trade in terms of value within 10 years, and Bangkok has pledged to increase transparency and legal protection to facilitate Japanese investors. "With these and other changes, there will be a significant increase in trade and investment between the two countries," said Assoc Prof Kitti.

But there is no gain without pain. With a free flow of goods and investment across borders, Thai entrepreneurs and all stakeholders must adjust and prepare themselves, otherwise they will be left behind, he added.

Similarly, Ambassador Kobayashi admits that the availability of cheap labour in China, Vietnam and elsewhere in the region will affect Thailand. "That's why Thailand must upgrade its workforce, producing more workers with higher skills and education," he said.

The Japanese Chamber of Commerce (JCC) and the Japanese Embassy had worked together with former Thai students in Japan to set up the Thai-Nichi Institute of Technology, or TNI, in Bangkok to produce young people with special technical skills for the industrial sector in Thailand. The institute began accepting students in May this year. In August, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presided over an official opening ceremony.

The institute offers several courses on automobile manufacturing, factory management and general administration. "These are very practical programmes conducted by both Thai and Japanese lecturers and trainers," explained the ambassador. Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) also has a programme to send retired Japanese professionals to teach here.

Under the JTEPA, there are some programmes of similar nature. The basic idea is to invite technicians from neighbouring countries to Thailand and teach them how to teach other workers. This is because the level of technology in Thailand is higher than in those countries, he explained.

Additionally, the Japanese government is providing scholarships for at least 100 Thai students to attend undergraduate and graduate programmes in Japan each year. The JCC has also started a new scholarship programme for Thais to study in Thailand from elementary to college education.

Friendship Still Blossoms

In the city of Nagoya, there's a temple unlike others seen around Japan. The Nittaiji Temple (or Japanese-Thai Temple) was built by the people of Nagoya in 1904 to keep a Buddha relic which was presented as a gift to the Japanese people by King Chulalongkorn the Great of Thailand. For the past 103 years, millions of Thai and Japanese Buddhists have visited the temple.

Buddhism is one of the common characteristics that have contributed to the harmonious and friendly relationship between the two peoples for the past 120 years of diplomatic relations. And Assoc Prof Somchai of Thammasat University believes that friendship will grow further, thanks to the strong foundation that had been laid since the Red Seal ships travelled up the Chao Phya River more than 600 years ago.

History could be a useful guide. But for Assoc Prof Somchai, the greatest lesson in life had already been handed to him by the late Dr Tesaburo Nichigawa, who was both his mentor and teacher during his time at Tokyo University of Agriculture.

Not long before he passed away, Dr Nichigawa took him aside and said: "As a student of agriculture you must always remember that it is your duty not to let your people go hungry. Everyone must have enough rice to eat."

At the funeral, Somchai was asked to deliver a eulogy. But he felt a lump in his throat and began to cry. And everyone cried. Laying in front of them was an empty coffin; the lecturer had donated his body to a medical school.

" So we eventually came to salute Dr Nichigawa," recalled Assoc Prof Somchai. "He had lived his life to the full - by giving to others."


Year of Ceremony

Several events have already been held in Thailand and in Japan since the middle of January to mark the 120th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. More will be held until the 8th of December.

On Wednesday, 26 September, there will be a grand opening of a Thai pavilion at Ueno Park in Tokyo to mark the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce 120 years ago. On the same day in Bangkok, a Japan-Asean Festival Orchestra Concert will be held at the Thailand Cultural Centre, with speeches to commemorate the event.

For more information, please see "http://www.tourismthailand.org/banner/120year.aspx."

A Thailand-based web company wants to create the ultimate translation tool

Story by DON SAMBANDARAKSA


A web company based in Thailand is hoping to create a tool that allows for the translation of Asian language texts, including Thai, into any other major language and vice versa. In doing so, it hopes to make the vast amount of information on the Internet available to those who cannot read English.

One year ago, Asia Online invited Professor Philipp Koehn from the University of Edinburgh's School of Informatics to help perfect Statistical Machine Translation (SMT) for Thai and many other Asian languages. In an exclusive interview, Koehn explained how SMT first arose as an IBM project in the late 1980s, translating between French and English.

Instead of the usual rules and grammatical structure, SMT uses statistics through paring up sentences in each language, called parallel copra, and learning how sentences are translated. Essentially, the system can learn Thai by feeding it, for example, copies of Harry Potter in English and the translated Thai versions for it to analyse.

The system works much better than conventional rule-based systems as few languages have words that map directly to another. "Take the phrase 'interest rate.' Interest has a lot of different meanings, rate is also an amorphous word that has many meanings, but interest rate together has a very definite translation. Local context helps a lot," Koehn explained. Another example is refuse (the verb, meaning turn down) and refuse (the noun, meaning trash). These give surprisingly few problems.

The challenges lie with different sentence structures. Japanese and German, for instance, have the verb at the end of the sentence. German also has morphology, where words merge into huge monster words. A bigger problem is with languages that leave out information altogether, for instance on tense or omitted subjects or objects which have to then be gathered from the surrounding sentences.

Professor Philipp Koehn of the University of Edinburgh shows of the EuroMatrix, a statistical machine translation (SMT) project used to translate to and from each of the European Union's languages. Today he is helping perfect Thai SMT with Asiaonline. — DON SAMBANDARAKSA

Away from his work at Asia Online and the university, Koehn is also working on real-time voice translation for DARPA, the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency for Chinese and Arabic. The system is already deployed in Iraq and has by far the most mature SMT engine available, with over 200 million parallel copra sentence pairs. The system starts to work well with 20 million sentence pairs and gives a good result with 40 million, according to Koehn.

Another project is in the European Union. Its 25 official languages means over 600 language pairs that every document needs to be translated to and from. One benefit is the high quality of existing legal documents which can be used to train the SMT engine.

For Thai, one of the unique challenges has been to create a work segmentation pre-processor, as Thai does not have breaks between words or full stops. Today, Asia Online has hired fresh graduates from Chulalongkorn University's computational linguistics programme and is working with researchers from Chulalongkorn, Thammasat, Kasetsart and Nectec (the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre).

It also has developed a post-processor that rates the quality of Thai and the automatic changes are fed back into the SMT learning engine.

The algorithms are relatively advanced. Learning Arabic with 200 million parallel copra takes around a week on a modern Linux PC with 4GB of memory and a lot of hard disk space.

Asia Online founder Dion Wiggins explained that while Professor Koehn has been focusing on the usability and the translation quality as part of his pure research work, it will be up to Asia Online to architect the algorithms in a way that can scale to thousands of transactions a second. This will allow users of the Asia Online portal to view the Internet in any language they wish.

A lot of work can be taken care of in the pre- and post-processing. For instance, Chinese numbering refers to 52,000 as "five point two ten thousand", which would need to be translated into "fifty-two thousand" for both English and Thai. Other engineers are working on a name and place recognition pre-processor that will tag words that need to be translated phonetically.

Professor Kohen and the Asia Online staff declined to show the quality of Thai translation just yet, though they promised it would be better than anything else available when it is formally launched.

Time will tell.

One key improvement of the raw algorithms will be the development of specialised domains. For instance, language used in car manuals is quite different from legal documents and from chatrooms. Wiggins said that the system will feature thousands of domains, which will be one of the unique points of the Asiao Online SMT engine.

For languages with insufficient texts, like Khmer, SMT algorithms can triangulate with two or more different languages, for instance merging Japanese-Khmer with English-Khmer parallel copra. This has successfully been used to train SMT systems for Gaelic, Welsh and Catalan and other "low resource" languages.

The Bible and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been very useful as it has been translated into every major language. For Asia, Wiggins is eyeing the Buddhist Tripitaka for use to train the engine.

Asked if this would mean that Asia Online will be able to translate into ancient languages such as Pali, still used widely in Buddhist rituals, and Sanskrit, Wiggins laughed and said, "Let's get Thai working first."

Thailand's Honda says five-year target is 100,000 units

Honda says eco-car plan worth B6bn

ARANEE JAIIMSIN

Asian Honda Motor expects its eco-car initiative to lead to new investment of nearly six billion baht by the company and its suppliers to produce at least 100,000 units over the first five years, according to senior vice-chairman Adisak Rohitasune.

He said Honda had yet to finalise its investment budget for the eco-car programme, as the car's final design had yet to be concluded.

Honda recently announced a five-billion-baht budget to double its current production capacity project to 240,000 cars per year from 120,000 units now. The new investment excludes additional investment costs required under the eco-car programme.

The company has already submitted proposals to the Board of Investment for special investment privileges under the eco-car programme.

The government's specifications for eco-cars require an engine displacement not exceeding 1,300cc, with the fuel consumption rate at a maximum of one litre for 20 kilometres.

Mr Adisak said it may take more than a year from now to complete the design due to the global specifications required by the Thai government.

In addition, the price of each unit will be 500,000 baht maximum.

Honda would produce eco-cars to serve both domestic and export markets. However, the number of car sales for each market will depend on domestic demand.

Mr Adisak said the company would produce at least 100,000 eco-cars in five years to comply with the government's production volume requirement.

''Soaring oil prices and the global warming problem will help stimulate demands for our eco-cars throughout the world, certainly,'' he said.

The market share of small cars, for example the Honda City, Toyota Yaris, Honda Jazz and Toyota Vios, in Thailand is almost 60% of total passenger car volume at present, he said.

The eco-cars could also attract some lower-income market, which is seeking affordable cars but with full options, said Mr Adisak.

Only small cars and the sport utility vehicle (SUV) segment are still growing in the Thai market while sales volume of other segments has been stagnant.

He added that an eco-car had potential to create new markets in the global auto industry due to its unique specifications.

Second Thai One-Two-Go plane has crash landing

Pilot sent 'mayday' to tower

By Achadtaya Chuenniran and Thai News Agency


The chief pilot of the ill-fated One-Two-Go airliner sent a distress signal to the control tower just before it crash-landed last Sunday, said Pornchai Ua-aree, director of Phuket international airport.

The pilot used a ''mayday'' signal to ask for help just before the plane veered off the runway and crashed into an earth embankment.

Meanwhile, another One-Two-Go flight from Bangkok to Hat Yai yesterday had a minor crash landing, but the pilot managed to control the aircraft.

One of the plane's lights and air-conditioning control panels fell on top of a passenger and oxygen masks also dropped down, airport officials said.

One passenger suffered bruising.

The incident took place less than a week after 89 passengers were killed and 41 injured when One-Two-Go flight OG269 from Bangkok veered off the runway and crashed at Phuket airport.

Sqn-Ldr Pornchai, who briefed a delegation from the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) transport committee about last week's crash, said airport controllers had warned the pilot about gusting winds and rain.

He said the controllers received information [from the pilot] that as the aircraft was about to touch down, its wheels were out, but they did not touch the ground.

He cited the taped conversation between the air traffic controllers and the pilot.

''The chief pilot shouted 'mayday' repeatedly to ask for help until he lost contact with the control tower,'' Sqn-Ldr Pornchai said.

The NLA committee, led by Bannawit Kengrien, yesterday travelled to Phuket to compile information about the crash and visit the injured at Bangkok Phuket hospital.

On long-term measures to cope with emergencies at the airport, he said the airport needed better quality foam to extinguish fires. The foam used to douse the fire last week was not good enough to put the fire out completely, Sqn-Ldr Pornchai said.

He also suggested large, better-equipped hospitals be built near Phuket airport.

Currently, the closest hospital is Thalang hospital, a small hospital that cannot serve many emergency patients, he said, adding the large hospitals are situated far away from the airport.

He said another 50 CCTV cameras would be installed in and around the airport, in addition to the 50 cameras already in place.

The NLA panel also called on the airport to make sure its equipment is well maintained and staff properly trained, he said.

Adm Bannawit said improvements must be made to the airport's rescue capability.

He said the airport still lacked an efficient rescue team and there were no rescue helicopters available.

He said he would pass on complaints about shortcomings in airport rescue work to various agencies.

Adm Bannawit expected all airports under the supervision of the Airports of Thailand to finish installing security cameras by the end of the month.

As for the data recorders which were sent to the United States, he said, the information on the cause of the crash should be made available in a month.

Udom Tantiprasongchai, president of Orient Thai Airlines, operator of the One-Two-Go budget airline, said he had received a report on yesterday's incident which said the pilot had to make a crash landing on the runway to ensure the wheels firmly touched down.

He said it was ''a normal situation'' which happened occasionally and did not suggest the plane was of sub-standard quality. He said officials of the Civil Aviation Department investigated the cause of the accident and had found nothing wrong with the plane.

He said the department had allowed the plane to get back into service.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thoresen Thai issues CB with scarcity value


Read this article online at:
http://www.financeasia.com/article.aspx?CIID=92661

A low premium and demand for Thai paper helps the shipping company to raise at least $140 million.
Integrated shipping company Thoresen Thai Agencies last night raised $140 million from the sale of convertible bonds which attracted strong demand particularly from Asia-based accounts.

This is only the second CB to be issued by a Thai company since late 2002, which gave it a definite scarcity value and observers note that this value was compounded because there are also very few CBs issued by the Asian shipping sector. From a diversification perspective, this bond was almost ideal and this was confirmed both by the level of interest and the low bond floor – which suggests investors were willing to pay a bit extra for the equity option.

It obviously didn’t hurt either that Thoresen Thai is regarded as a quality company and is experiencing strong demand for its shipping services. Listed in Bangkok, it ranks as Thailand’s second largest shipping company and one of the large-cap stocks in the Thai market, but in terms of its operations, it is widely viewed as an international player.

Established in Hong Kong in 1904 it now owns and operates a fleet of 45 general cargo vessels and dry bulk carriers. It also provides offshore oil and gas related services, including sub-sea contract drilling, through its 78%-owned subsidiary Mermaid Maritime, which the management is looking to spin off for a separate listing in Singapore, as well as a range of shipping related services such as ship brokerage and warehouse rentals.

According to a source, the base deal size was about four times covered and the book included not only mainstream CB investors, but a number of new accounts that are trying to build exposure to Thailand. Given the strong interest in the bonds and the current strength of the market, there is a good chance that joint bookrunners Macquarie Securities and Merrill Lynch will be able to exercise the $30 million greenshoe and increase the total deal size to $170 million.

About 83% of the demand came from Asia with the rest from Europe, according to sources. The bonds weren’t offered to onshore US accounts.

Investors weren’t willing to take the bonds at any price, however, which was evident by the fact that the yield to maturity was fixed at 5.5%, or at the wide end of the offered range of 5% to 5.50%. On top of that, they will also get a 2.5% annual coupon. The bonds have a staggered maturity date with one-third of the deal maturing after three years, one-third after four years and the final third after five years. This is an unusual feature for Asian CBs and was likely put in place to allow the issuer to spread the repayment risk over a longer period in case the bonds aren’t converted into equity.

That would seem unlikely though as the conversion premium is low, especially in light of the share price having more than doubled since the beginning of this year. The deal was launched with a fixed premium of 15% above the three-day volume-weighted average price of Bt52.09, which gave a conversion price of Bt59.90. The share price rallied 2.9% yesterday, however, as Asian equities were snapped up in the wake of the 50 basis point interest rate drop by the US Federal Reserve, which meant that the actual conversion premium is only 14.1% over the latest close of Bt52.50.

The share price is up 119% so far this year on the back of strong demand for dry bulk ships and rising freight rates. The Baltic Dry Index, which tracks the cost of moving dry-bulk cargo such as rice, sugar and grain, has almost doubled in the past 12 months. The stock dropped in line with the global equity markets in the first couple of weeks of August but has recovered almost all of those losses since.

The underlying assumptions included a credit spread of 325 basis points, a stock borrow cost of 5% and protection for the bondholders in case the divided yield goes above 2%. This gave a bond floor of 90.9%, which is low – especially for the third of the bonds that mature in three years’ time - but in combination with the low conversion premium, investors obviously felt that they could absorb that.

“This deal shows that there is significant investor interest in Thailand,” says one source close the deal.

The implied volatility was 24%, which compares with a historic volatility of 56%. However, the latter has been driven up by the August correction and the jittery market conditions globally since then, making it less useful as a valuation tool.

The bonds have no put option, but there is an issuer call after three years, subject to a hurdle of 130%.

While the scarcity effect obviously worked in favour of this deal, there are still a lot of concerns about the longer-term impact on the global economy from the US subprime crisis. Investors will have been well aware that a potential slowdown in economic growth could have negative implications for trade and in its extension for shipping companies. However, the latter was probably less in focus yesterday as the Fed rate drop was seen to have reduced the likelihood of a US recession, which shows that Thoresen Thai timed the issue well.

The company received approval from its shareholders to issue the bonds in mid-August, but held off on launching the deal because of the turbulence in the global credit markets. The company first announced its plan to sell CBs in early July.

The only other CB by a Thai company in the past three-and-a-half years came in July last year when hospital operator Bangkok Dusit Medical raised $110 million through a deal that was very well received. This bond, which was also arranged by Macquarie, was a bit different however in that it was denominated in US dollars but uses the Thai baht as the functional currency.

Thoresen Thai will use the money raised from the CB to refinance its secured long-term debt, which will allow it to fund a renewal of its shipping fleet as well as its wider expansion plan. A Thoresen Thai official said last month that the company pays an average of 7.7% on its outstanding debt of about $155 million.

Thailand eyes record tourism despite crash, coup

BANGKOK (AFP) — Thailand is eyeing a record tourist influx with foreigners seemingly undeterred by the Phuket plane disaster or political concerns since a military coup one year ago, industry officials say.

Hassles at a gleaming new airport outside the capital Bangkok have not put off visitors either, helping the tourism sector perform better than at first expected.

Sunday's Phuket crash, when a plane operated by budget carrier One-Two-Go crashed and broke up in flames on landing at the popular island resort, killed 89 of the 130 passengers and crew on board.

An airline official said 52 foreigners were among the dead, although police put the number at 57.

Despite that few foreigners have cancelled trips to Thailand, said Chattan Kunkara Na Ayudhaya, a spokesman for the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

"The situation so far is OK. Only 120 Singaporeans cancelled while 50 South Korean honeymoon couples just delayed their arrival dates," Chattan said.

There were no cancellations from Hong Kong, Taiwan or Australia, he said.

Tourists have also shrugged off political turmoil after the September 19, 2006 coup overthrew the government of prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Since the coup confidence among Thai consumers and investors has plummeted, while export growth is slowing.

But tourists were undeterred even by deadly bombs in Bangkok on New Year's Eve and a worsening insurgency in southern Muslim-majority provinces.

Thailand is now set for another record year in tourism, which generates six percent of the kingdom's economy, with at least 14.5 million arrivals, industry officials said.

"Given numerous negative factors, the tourism industry has performed better than expected. The coup, for example, hurt the sector briefly and actually caused less damage than we thought," said Chattan.

"We turned around the situation quickly and are still on track to achieve this year's target," he told AFP.

Many tourists did initially postpone trips after the coup, and Western embassies have heightened their warnings on security in Thailand.

The low season in May and June was quieter than normal, with 30 percent fewer arrivals than the same period last year and Asian tourists in particular staying away, said Apichart Sankary, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA).

"Tourists from Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam had disappeared because of shrinking confidence, mainly caused by rising violence in the south," he said.

But now resorts and hotels on Phuket are fully booked for the coming high season that starts in November, he added, speaking before Sunday's crash.

In the northern tourist magnet of Chiang Mai, where a thick haze blanketed the city for much of March, hotel operators also expect a record two million visitors this year.

"It's not the first coup in Thailand. That wasn't my concern at all for coming to Bangkok," said Catherine Law, a hotelier and first-time visitor from Hong Kong who was shopping at an upscale department store here.

"Attacks like the New Year bombings in Bangkok can happen anywhere."

An American aerospace executive who gave his name only as Paul said he was aware of the southern insurgency and the risk of new bombings in Bangkok.

"But I think the government and the military have taken everything under control," the 52-year-old said.

The new Suvarnabhumi Airport, which opened in Bangkok on September 28, 2006, has helped drive growth. It expanded capacity from the overstretched Don Mueang airport which now serves domestic flights.

International carriers have opened new routes to Bangkok, and the capital's skyline is filling up with new hotels and sprawling malls that have continued to sprout even after the coup.

While complaining of long lines, inadequate restrooms, poor signage and other problems at the new airport, passengers have kept coming.

It took nearly an hour for Collin Godgett, 55, from Northampton in Britain, to get through immigration at Suvarnabhumi.

"Maybe it's getting worse. A lot of people were waiting in the queue to get through immigration," he told AFP as he waited for a flight to Heathrow.

He had just finished his third trip to Thailand in the last 12 months.

Major Thai agribusiness to do IPO

AGRIBUSINESS / INITIAL PUBLIC OFFERING

After 40 years, Betagro to list on SET in 2008

WALAILAK KEERATIPIPATPONG

Betagro, one of Thailand's major agricultural groups, has celebrated its 40th anniversary by announcing plans to list on the Stock Exchange of Thailand next year to help raise funds for the expansion of its food and farm businesses.

The listing application would be filed this year to take advantage of incentives offered by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Market regulators recently confirmed that companies filing this year for a listing on the SET next year will be eligible to have their corporate tax rate of 25% instead of the normal 30% rate. Companies listing on the MAI will pay 20%.

Group chief executive Vanus Taepaisitphongse said that another objective was to increase Betagro's professionalism as a major specialist in the chicken and pork business.

Currently, only two chicken producers are traded publicly, Charoen Pokphand Foods and GFPT Plc.

''In the first 40 years, we have engaged mainly in upstream industries _ producing feeds, farming, and making food. Now we'll take another step forward _ focusing more on downstream businesses, high-standard ready-to-eat meals and effective marketing and distribution,'' he said.

The Betagro Group comprises 29 wholly owned and joint-venture companies in the agricultural and food industry.

The proposal for the share listing has been prepared by Phatra Securities. The amount of funds to be raised was not revealed but part of the capital would finance investment projects worth 3.1 billion baht in 2008 and 2009, said chief operating officer Vasit Taepaisitphongse.

The new investments, mainly to build more chicken-processing and food-production plants, would ensure the company meets its annual revenue growth projection of 10% to 15% over the next five years from around 33 billion baht this year.

Revenue from the domestic market would still contribute the largest portion to Betagro, at around 75% and the balance would come from exports. The poultry business and the regional and feed business would continue to be the major contributors of 40% each to total revenue.

Group chief financial officer Siriwan Intarakumthornchai said that after the stock listing, Betagro's debt-to-equity ratio would drop to two times from six to seven now.

In addition to the listing announcement, Betagro yesterday launched a brand-building concept under the theme ''Let's Make Life Better''. It aims to consolidate the marketing expertise in the agricultural and food industry of the company, which started business 40 years ago as a small supplier of raw materials for animal feed near the now-defunct Bankok Metropolitan Bank in the Suan Mali area in Bangkok before expanding into a major feed and chicken producer and exporter.

But the financial crisis in 1997 and bird flu in 2003 led Betagro to restructure its businesses comprehensively, aiming to modernise its operations and increase competitiveness.

At least two management systems, total quality management (TQM) and total productivity management (TPM), have been implemented to raise productivity and trim operating costs.

Mr Vanus said building business partnerships among farmers, traders and foreign investors was on the company's agenda to create win-win strategies.

Currently, Betagro deals with tens of thousands of chicken farmers and hundreds of traders who distribute its products. It also runs ventures with five giant Japanese corporations: Mitsubishi Corporation, Sumitomo Corporation, Ajinomoto Inc, Dainippon-Sumitomo Pharmaceutical Co and Ootoya Co.

After the listing and brand-building efforts, Mr Vanus said Betagro would have a clear position and should not be compared with the giant CP Group.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bangkok's new airport weathers harsh criticism

Home-truth time for Suvarnabhumi

Published on September 17, 2007

Iata and others offer harsh words of advice to airport's operators

Aviation experts evaluating Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport after one year of operation have said the airport is losing competitiveness due to high charges while still being poor in public services.

They urge authorities to add more capacity, either through a mid-field terminal or a low-cost terminal.

International and local aviation associations as well as airport users were asked to comment on the airport, which will mark its first anniversary of operation on September 28.

According to Albert Tjoeng, International Air Transport Association (Iata) manager of corporate communications for Asia Pacific, general operations at Suvarnabhumi are better than when it opened.

He said signposting had improved and there were more toilets but there was still work to be done before Suvarnabhumi could be a world-class airport ranking among the top 20 airports in the Airports Council International's survey.

These include more signs, redesigning the retail area, installing more toilets and adding more capacity, either through a mid-field terminal or a low-cost terminal.

Tjoeng said Airports of Thailand (AOT) should quickly rectify the remaining deficiencies as well as addressing the outstanding problems identified during the operations and security audits conducted in April this year.

AOT has reassured Iata that it is addressing these findings in consultation with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao).

Regarding the airport's competitiveness, Iata was critical of the unilateral 15-per-cent increase in landing/parking charges, along with increases in other airport charges in April. The concession fees levied by AOT on ground-handling companies are being passed on to airlines.

The total turnaround costs at Bangkok are higher than at Kuala Lumpur or Singapore for various aircraft types, so airlines pay more than at Kuala Lumpur or Singapore and yet get worse service.

Moving forward, AOT needs to establish an effective consultation process with Iata and the airlines to reach a long-term charges agreement to be in line with international best practices, Tjoeng said, and AOT needs to take steps to improve cost efficiency to ensure that its own expenses and investments are cost efficient.

Productivity improvements, lack of wasteful investment and optimal procurement policies are important to keep costs to a minimum: "Airlines should not be burdened with additional costs due to poor planning, compensation issues, repair costs arising from defects at the airport, duplicated services as a result of operating two airports, and the other mistakes of AOT," he added.

Iata is also opposed to AOT's suggestion of a noise charge on passengers and airlines. Airlines and their passengers cannot be made responsible for measures aimed at alleviating noise when they have had little or no influence on the location of airports or on the land-use policies in the vicinity of an airport.

The charge would increase the cost of operations without addressing the core issue, he noted, suggesting instead that AOT fund any compensation from its own finances.

Icao's balanced approach should also be adopted by having an effective land-use policy, reducing noise at source, and implementing noise-abatement air-traffic-control procedures, he said.

Tjoeng also commented on the use of two airports, saying Iata continued to advocate a single airport as the preferred long-term solution if Bangkok was to be a strong aviation hub in the region. "Having two airports splits the passengers, airlines and AOT's resources and leads to lower cost-efficiency and inconvenience for passengers."

Hence AOT should urgently inject additional capacity at Suvarnabhumi by building either a mid-field terminal or a low-cost terminal. If the decision is to operate two airports, then it is critical that there be a level playing field for all airlines. "All carriers should be given the choice of where they wish to operate from. Airport charges should be transparent and accurately allocated, and there should not be any cross-subsidisation between the two airports."

Brian Sinclair Thompson of the Board of Airline Representatives at Thailand said newly opened airports generally had many problems.

Yet he noted that Suvarnabhumi Airport's capacity was already full, so that airline operators were urging the government to develop a third terminal in order to meet higher demand.

"The airlines want to see further investment at the airport next year when the new government is established," said Thomson, adding that AOT itself needed to solve internal problems, especially the search for a new leader.

Thomson also said Bangkok should have a single airport, Suvarnabhumi, and must attract users with low charges.

"AOT is focusing on increasing revenue, unlike many busy airports such as London's Heathrow, which receives charges worth 15 per cent of total revenue," he said.

Yongyut Lujintanon, Cathay Pacific sales and marketing manager for Thailand and Burma, said the overall operation had improved, particularly in infrastructure, while people working at the airport were now familiar with the new place.

The airport's vision of being an aviation hub was still unclear, he said, though in spite of poor policy, many airlines were waiting to broaden their network or add flights into Thailand.

Suchat Sritama

The Nation

Thailand's air disaster CEO to rethink strategy after tragedy

Udom may have to rethink One-Two-Go strategies

Soon as he learnt about a crash of his One-Two-Go airline on Sunday, Udom Tantiprasongchai, founder and also chief executive officer of Orient Thai Airlines, came out to express his regret over the tragedy.

Udom may have to rethink One-Two-Go strategies

Udom

Speaking on television, he extended his condolences to the victims and their families and promised to take care of them. It was quite rare for Udom to come out in the public. For throughout most of his business life, he prefers to shun publicity.

Following the Thai government's implementation of an open sky policy, Udom began to set up his Orient Thai Airlines, a boutique airline company that sought to carve out its niche market.

Orient Thai Airlines relies on Bangkok as a hub, operating charter and scheduled services in Southeast Asia. Its main base is Don Muang International Airport.

Udom is known that closed to military people both in Thailand and Cambodia so that he can run the business well. He also has a regional outlook.

Yet it was off to a rocky start. The airline was formerly known as Cambodian International Airlines. Udom had close ties with the Cambodian authorities. With business problems, Orient Thai ceased scheduled operations on January 9, 1998. But it continues to operate charter services on behalf of Kampuchea Airlines.

However, scheduled operations have since been restarted. It is now wholly owned by private Thai shareholders and has 820 employees (at March 2007).

Three years ago, Udom came up an idea to set up a budget airline based in Bangkok. He eventually set up a wholly owned OneTwoGo Airlines as the proliferation of the budget airlines was fully in vogue. Orient Thai also has a 49 per cent stake in Kampuchea Airlines.

As of September 2007, the OneTwoGO Airlines fleet consists of aircraft 3 Boeing 747100, 1 Boeing 747200, 3 Boeing 747300, 6 McDonnell Douglas MD82 and 1 McDonnell Douglas MD83.

Udom has gone into the airline business because he forsees bright opportunities in the commercial aviation industry.

One Two Go was the first local low cost airline, started the operation between Bangkok to Chiang Mai in 2003. The airline operated as no frill airline ahead of Thai AirAsia.

However, it has not been as successful as Thai AirAsia.

A Phuket bound plane crashed at Phuket international airport amid heavy rain after flying from Bangkok on a budget flight. The aircraft is believed to be a MacDonnel Douglas MD 80 aircraft.

The airline is operating from Bangkok ( Don Mueang International Airport) base Bangkok ( Suvarnabhumi Airport) to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Hat Yai, Krabi, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phuket and Surat Thani.

Udom has also managed to penetrate into the charter flight and establish business contacts with other international airlines. Orient Thai Airlines was Asia's first international charter operator. Along with its subsidiary, Kampuchea Airlines, it provided services to other airlines including Finnair, Lufthansa, LTU and Merpati.

Udom's niche market was the business with the United Nations. Orient Thai Airlines transported refugees around the world for the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM), including returning people to Kosovo from Australia and helping Timorese return to East Timor in 1999 after it won its independence from Indonesia.

Orient Thai became a designated UN carrier, transporting troops for peacekeeping operations worldwide.

Orient Thai aircraft also fly Muslim Hajj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for various clients, including Air India and the Saudi royal family. At the peak of its charter work Orient Thai Airlines' subsidiary operated eight Boeing 747s and seven McDonnell Douglas MD80s aircraft.

As of May 2007, Orient Thai Airlines operates scheduled passenger flights to the following destinations of China, Hong Kong, South Korea.

It is too early to say how Udom might want to restructure his OneToGo airline after the Phuket tragedy. To restore its name, the airline needs to disclose all the facts behind the crash and assure further safety measures.

by Suchart Sritama

The Nation

67 Thais and 57 foreigners reported on destroyed Phuket flight



Sunday Sep 16 21:49 AEST

AP - A passenger plane crashed while attempting to land at southern Thailand's Phuket airport, leaving a large number dead, an official said. An unconfirmed television report said 60 were dead.

Local television station TITV reported there were 123 mostly foreign passengers on the plane, One-To-Go airlines flight OG 269 from Bangkok to Phuket.

One-To-Go, a budget airline, is owned by Orient Thai Airways.

Phuket's Deputy Governor, Vorapot Rajsima said in a local TV report that 90 per cent of people on the plane were believed dead.

"I believe there are people dead, but the number is still unclear," said Chaisak Angsuwan, director general of the Air Transport Authority of Thailand.

TITV reported 60 dead. Chaisak said he could not immediately confirm that. It was not clear who the station's report was citing.

Chaisak said 20 people were seriously injured on the flight, which crashed in heavy rain.

"The visibility was poor as the pilot attempted to land. He decided to make a go-around but the plane lost balance and crashed," he said. "It was torn into two parts."

Anchalee Wanitthepphabutr, chief of Phuket's provincial administrative authority, said on TITV that the plane had been in flames.

Anchalee said the dead and injured were being taken from the plane to several hospitals in Phuket.

Maj Gen Deecha Butnamphet, police chief in Phuket, said on TITV that "we believe that there are many people who are dead. We are taking the dead and injured out from the scene."

Plane Crash in Phuket


19:00: The Nation Channel reports on details on the flight manifest 67 Thais and 57 foreigners (this is 124 and not 123 as mentioned below). The nationalities of the foreigners mentioned were Israelis, Irish, and Australian. Emergency workers have recovered 45 bodies from the scene.

18:50: The Nation has a list of the injured at a hospital in Phuket:

1. Likhit Liengpansakul - ICU

2. Parinwit Choosaeng - ICU

3. Chainarong maharae - ICU

4. Apichart Pata

5. Eric Nileland

6. Cristopher Maken

7. Nong Kaonual

8. Ladda Kaonual

9. Pratin Lienchamroon

10. Sarah (unknown surname)

COMMENT: Nong, person no 7, was the person interviewed on Nation Channel below.

18:40: BBC now has an article. We now have Nation Channel reporting on the names of 10 injured at one hospital (Siriroj). 8 Thais and 2 foreigners were from the names. Transliteration from Thai to English, the two foreigners are Eric Nailand and Chrisopther Magen.

18:30: Nation Channel is continuing the same interview with the survivor. He said that he saw about 10 other people also jumped out the emergency door. He estimates there were about an equal number of Thais and foreigners.

He said he received no special announcements from the pilot to suggest there were any problems. He says that the plane was travelling faster than normal upon landing. He says he didn't feel the wheels touch the ground, it just split into two. He said looking into the plane was full of smoke.

COMMENT: As is typical, only Nation Channel has live reports now Channels 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, and TITV have gone back to normal programming.

18:20: The Nation Channel has a telephone interview with a survivor named Norng who was on the left hand side of the plane near the wings with his wife (ie near the emergency door). He is injured although he appears to be dazed as he isn't making much sense in the telephone conversation. His wife is quite seriously injured.

Talking from Orient Executive (One-to-Go corporate entity) saying that Phuket airport is closed.

18:10 Reports from the scene from Nation Channel. The plane tried to land, but wasn't able to so tried to elevate and the plane split in two.

18:10 The Nation Channel reports from one hospital they have 6 foreigners (Israelis and Australians). The Nation Channel is quoting from a person whose parents survived and called them to say they are safe. The reports states the couple survived after they jumped from the plane window after the crash.

18:05 The Nation Channel reports from the scene paraphrasing emergency workers who believe from the damage and from what they saw that 90% of people on the plane would have died.

Chief of Phuket Police saying that a large number of people died. On those who survived, he said that it is not a large number and many are seriously injured.

Deputy Governor of Phuket says the entire plane destroyed and more than 90% of the 128 people onboard would have been killed (123 passengers + 5 crew members).

17:55: The Manager reports:

เครื่องบินวันทูโกระเบิดเพลิงไหม้ทั้งลำแล้วหลังไถลออกนอกรันเวย์ ระดมเจ้าหน้าที่ แพทย์ พยาบาลให้การช่วยเหลือผู้โดยสาร 123 คนติดในเครื่อง พร้อมลูกเรืออีก 5 คน ล่าสุดมีรายงานว่าผู้เสียชีวิตประมาณ 60 คนแล้วและบาดเจ็บจำนวนมาก

จากกรณีที่เกิดเหตุเครื่องบินของสายการบินวันทูโกแอร์ เที่ยวบินที่ OG 269 เกิดอุบัติเหตุลื่นไถลออกนอกรันเวย์ ขณะลงจอดที่ท่าอากาศยานภูเก็ตเมื่อช่วงเวลาประมาณ 16.00 น.วันนี้ (16 ก.ย.) ล่าสุดมีรายงานข่าวว่า ภายหลังจากลื่นไถลเครื่องบินได้เกิดเสียงระเบิดขึ้น 2 ครั้ง หลังจากนั้นได้เกิดเพลิงไหม้ตัวเครื่องบิน ขณะที่มีอยู่โดยสารอยู่ในเครื่องบิน 123 คน พร้อมลูกเรืออีก 5คน

Summarised Translation: Flight No OC269 departed Bangkok about 14:20 and crashed around 4pm today (16 Sep). Expected that around 60 people have died. 2 explosions.

COMMENT: TITIV reports from an official source saying 30 killed. Heavy run in Phuket so the 2 explosions might just be the noise and not a sign of a bomb etc.

17:45pm : TITV reports that at least 2 crew members have survived. The TITV reporter at the scene is told that up to 100 people could have been killed. Those who are injured are seriously injured.


COMMENT: We have no video of the airport as the authorities won't let them. All channels just have the studio background and are on telephone.

The Nation reports:

A budget airline exploded and broke into two pieces after it slid out of runway and crashed with nearby walls at Phuket airport on Saturday afternoon.

The number of injuries is not able to be confirmed, but some reports said 60 passengers were killed.

Initial report said the airline; One-to-Go, has 123 passengers and crew.

The MB 82 airline landed at the Phuket airport at about 3.40pm from Bangkok and was taxing when it slid out of the slippery runway caused by heavy rains.

The aircraft then crashed with trees and walls nearby.

Eye-witnesses said the impact of the crash broke the aircraft into two pieces and they heard noises of explosion sporadically.

Rescue teams and navy rushed to the scene.

COMMENT: Channel 7 reports from the scene that more than 100 injured. Mixture of Thais and foreigners. No of deaths still unknown so unsure whether report of 60 is accurate

Thai jet crashes on Phuket with death toll climbing

A Thai airliner carrying about 128 passengers has crashed and broken in two as it attempted to land during bad weather at Phuket airport in the south of the country.
A local official said that at least 30 people are likely to have been killed in the crash.
A rescue effort was underway and the plane was believed to still be on fire.

The MD-80 plane, operated by budget carrier One-Two-Go, was flying to Phuket from Bangkok.

"The plane then fell onto the runway and broke into two. It is expected that there will be deaths," Chiasak Angkauwan, a civil aviation official, told Thai television.

The airplane asked to land but due to the weather in Phuket - strong wind and heavy rain - maybe the pilot did not see the runway clearly," he said.

"We are rescuing people from the aircraft ... we know now there were 123 passengers and five crew," he told the news channel.
"We won't know what really happened until we hear the black box."
Lieutenant Major Sokchai Limcharoen, a police chief in the Phuket area of, said the plane crashed at 3:35pm (0835 GMT).
"The plane was landing and slid off the runway. We are rescuing people and carrying injured people to hospitals," he said, adding that the plane was on fire.