Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thailand's international airline/airport ranking dropping

The latest results of an independent global survey of airlines and airports which involved 15 million travellers reflect disappointingly on Thailand's two key players _ Thai Airways International (THAI) and Suvarnabhumi Airport. THAI has dropped in the latest rankings of the world's preferred carriers in 2008, slipping from second place last year to fourth, and falling further behind repeated winner Singapore Airlines.

Our national carrier was overtaken by Cathay Pacific, which moved up to second place in the Skytrax survey from third last year, while Qantas moved up to rank third from its previous fifth.

The rankings of others in the 2008 top-ten list, with last year's ratings in brackets, include: 5 Asiana Airlines (12), 6 Malaysia Airlines (6), 7 Qatar Airways (4), 8 Air New Zealand (7), 9 Emirates (9) and 10 Etihad Airways (23).

Meanwhile, Suvarnabhumi Airport remained unmentioned in Skytrax's top-ten best airports list, with competing airports like Hong Kong International Airport, Singapore's Changi Airport and Kuala Lumpur International continuing to retain their top-end rankings in the 2008 ratings.

Hong Kong continues at the top as the world's best airport, while Singapore remains firmly in second position. Seoul's Incheon International Airport was third, down from second rank last year (which it shared with Singapore), while Kuala Lumpur moved up to fourth from fifth position last year.

Other top airports in the 2008 top-ten ratings, with last year's positions in brackets, are: 5 Munich (4), 6 Kansai (9), 7 Copenhagen (11), 8 Zurich (6), 9 Helsinki (12) and 10 Cape Town (13).

The only consolation we can find from the latest rating is that Bangkok Airways continues to be Asia's best regional airline, for the fifth consecutive year.

The latest Skytrax ranking should particularly sound the alarm for THAI as it indicates a downgrade in services and quality as perceived by international travellers, while its rivals were either maintaining or improving their performance to impress travellers.

It sends a clear message to THAI's management and its 26,000 employees of the need to shape up or lose out in the highly competitive world of aviation business.

THAI should not take comfort in the knowledge that it remains in the 2008 top-ten rankings, but should take its slide as a warning to resolutely do better, with a concerted effort and revived aspirations to bring back the glory days when it enjoyed a reputation as one of the world's most admired carriers.

In order to achieve that, the powers that be at THAI need to work earnestly and sincerely to tackle chronic issues that have plagued the 48-year-old airline, such as mismanagement, internal conflict, the feeling of growing mistrust within the airline and eroding professionalism.

Obviously there is still a lot more work to be done at the gleaming Suvarnabhumi, which despite its advantage as one of the world's newest airports, continues to attract harsh criticism from international passengers since its inception in 2006.

Bangkok's new gateway airport remains a three-star airport, being defined as ''fair'' in the 2008 Skytrax rating, compared to five-star marks (excellent) achieved by Hong Kong, Singapore's Changi and Seoul's Incheon, and four-star (good) Kuala Lumpur.

There has been some effort to improve the overall quality standard at Suvarnabhumi over the past year. But the results have not really been seen or appreciated by many international travellers.

From the recent survey reviews posted by passengers, it becomes clear that numerous problematic issues remain largely unresolved.

One traveller wrote: ''Just about everything that can be wrong is wrong! Horrendous Immigration lines (inbound and outbound) _ average time over 40 minutes while Thai passport desks are manned but devoid of passengers after 5/6 minutes.

''What should have been Thailand's showpiece has turned into a laughing stock, with corruption and touts everywhere. I have used this airport 10/12 times in the past year and I still see no sign or hope of improvement.''

Some of the criticisms are indeed harsh, but they point out time and again the flaws which the Airports of Thailand Plc (AOT) and parties involved have not really attended to as promised.

Both THAI and the AOT need to listen to and read what international travellers say and write about them, and react to the views with prompt and necessary action. These organisations are in the front line as to how the world views us.

Boonsong Kositchotethana is Deputy

Assignment Editor (Business), Bangkok Post

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