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Thai Pilots Association Opposes Foreign Pilot Proposal Amid Post-Pandemic Recovery Efforts

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Picture this: Sleek touchscreen controls gleam under the ambient cockpit lights of a Boeing 737-9 aircraft. It was during an event in September 2021 at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, that showcased the many updates to this modern marvel. But back in Thailand, a crucial debate raged about flight operations and the future of local pilots.

The Thai Pilots Association is vocally opposing a government proposal to temporarily lift restrictions on foreign pilots flying with Thai carriers. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin pointed out that the sluggish resumption of flights post-pandemic is a significant hurdle for the tourism sector—a sentiment shared globally by many airlines grappling with a personnel shortage.

In an effort to rejuvenate tourism, the government has urged airlines to ramp up their flights and expand their fleets. This plea was made during PM Srettha’s visit to the Thai offices of Agoda, the world’s largest travel booking platform. Yet, some airlines have suggested a rather contentious solution: allow foreign pilots to command Thai aircraft—an occupation currently exclusive to Thai nationals.

“We will discuss this issue with the Ministry of Labour to find a plausible solution, potentially including a temporary lifting of this restriction,” remarked Mr. Srettha.

However, Teerawat Angkasakulkiat, President of the Thai Pilots Association, firmly disagrees with this proposal. He recalled the challenging period during the pandemic, when airlines had to downscale operations, resulting in the furlough of numerous Thai pilots and a hiring freeze for fresh graduates.

Freshly-minted Thai pilots find themselves in a tight spot—they lack the experience to join foreign carriers, such as those in the Middle East, which demand seasoned pilots with licenses and substantial flight hours. The association discovered that several experienced pilots who were laid off during the pandemic have not returned due to the incomplete recovery of airline fleets.

“Thailand currently has around 1,200 student pilots who are struggling to find employment,” Teerawat pointed out.

Before the pandemic, airlines usually sponsored pilot training for obtaining specific aircraft licenses, known as type ratings, which typically took around nine months to complete. These sponsorships covered all associated costs for the pilots—a practice that has seen significant changes post-pandemic.

“Bringing in foreign pilots might expedite the process, but it would inevitably lead to job losses for many Thai pilots,” Teerawat argued.

In recent times, some airlines have adopted a “pay-to-fly” scheme, especially prevalent among European carriers. This model requires new graduates to pay for their training programs, which can range from 1.7 million to 3.5 million baht, in exchange for a job. Some foreign-backed airlines in Thailand have already begun to implement this scheme.

Teerawat decried the system as unfair, imposing heavy financial burdens on fresh graduates. He lauded the Thai Aviation Academy for producing highly skilled pilots through exhaustive training, fully capable of piloting any type of commercial aircraft in Thailand.

Teerawat suggested that expanding fleets would naturally take time, months even years, during which airlines could train new pilots. “We have over a thousand student pilots still jobless. We should focus on them first. There’s no necessity to open this profession to foreign pilots,” he insisted.


  1. Avery Daniels June 6, 2024

    I understand the need to revive the tourism industry, but importing foreign pilots seems like a slap in the face to our own unemployed pilots.

    • Sam June 6, 2024

      That’s a shortsighted view. We need to get flights running now, not wait for new pilots to be trained.

      • Leslie Park June 6, 2024

        But how can we expect loyalty from our pilots if we replace them the moment things get tough? This could deter people from pursuing a career in aviation altogether.

    • Davis Brown June 6, 2024

      Training local pilots should be the priority. Foreign pilots are a temporary solution at best.

      • Avery Daniels June 6, 2024

        Exactly. We can’t build a sustainable aviation industry on temporary fixes. Invest in local talent first.

      • Jake Lopez June 6, 2024

        But the immediate need is to boost tourism and fill the empty seats on our planes. Temporary fixes might be necessary.

  2. Lina June 6, 2024

    What about the pay-to-fly schemes? Are these even ethical?

    • Michael Hawke June 6, 2024

      They’re borderline exploitative if you ask me. Forcing new grads to pay thousands for a job? Outrageous.

      • Helen June 6, 2024

        Unfortunately, it’s becoming the norm in many places. The aviation industry needs a massive overhaul.

    • bradley1990 June 6, 2024

      It’s all about supply and demand. If pilots want the experience, sometimes this is the only way.

  3. Jenny Lawrence June 6, 2024

    Expanding fleets over years sounds like a pipe dream. We need practical solutions now.

    • Mark T. June 6, 2024

      Agreed. Governments should step in and provide short-term solutions while working on long-term plans.

      • Jenny Lawrence June 6, 2024

        Exactly. It’s all about balance. We can’t afford to be purists in a global crisis.

    • Lucas June 6, 2024

      Temporary solutions might harm more than they help. What happens to those foreign pilots after things stabilize?

  4. Paul R. June 6, 2024

    Let’s be realistic. Not opening the profession to foreigners in the interim could stall our economic recovery.

    • Nina Francis June 6, 2024

      But at what cost? We could be sacrificing the future for short-term gains.

      • Paul R. June 6, 2024

        If we don’t address the immediate problem, there might not be a future worth worrying about.

  5. Sophia June 6, 2024

    It’s unfair to blame the government for looking at all possible solutions. The pandemic has made times tough for everyone.

    • Arthur Davis June 6, 2024

      True, but the quality and long-term vision of those solutions matter too.

      • Sophia June 6, 2024

        Indeed, but sometimes we need to compromise for the greater good.

  6. FrequentFlyer June 6, 2024

    As long as safety isn’t compromised, I don’t mind who is piloting. Efficiency should be the main criterion.

  7. Lidia M. June 6, 2024

    The Thai Pilots Association is simply protecting their interests. This is about more than just jobs; it’s about national pride.

  8. Jack Wilson June 6, 2024

    There’s no easy answer here. The aviation sector worldwide is in shambles. Let’s give some credit to those trying to find solutions.

  9. Olivia June 6, 2024

    What’s the point of having skilled Thai pilots if there are no planes for them to fly? Bringing in foreign pilots could jump-start the fleet expansion.

    • Ian Clarke June 6, 2024

      Why can’t airlines train the pilots they already have? Seems inefficient to hire foreign pilots when local ones are available.

      • Olivia June 6, 2024

        Training takes time, which we don’t have. Foreign pilots are a necessary interim measure.

  10. Rodrigo June 6, 2024

    If you look at other industries, including foreign workers has often led to positive outcomes. Why should aviation be any different?

  11. Liam Harris June 6, 2024

    Is the real problem a lack of pilots or a lack of investment in local talent? Seems like a mismanagement issue to me.

  12. Georgia Blume June 6, 2024

    The government needs to take a more holistic approach. Look at how other countries are handling this issue.

    • Chris Y. June 6, 2024

      Comparing with other countries might not be entirely fair, every country has its unique challenges and resources.

      • Georgia Blume June 6, 2024

        Fair point, but we can still learn from their strategies and implement what works best for us.

  13. Sophia W. June 6, 2024

    How do we make sure that foreign pilots meet our safety standards? That’s an issue no one seems to be talking about.

    • Max June 6, 2024

      I assume there would be stringent vetting processes, but your point is valid. Safety should be the priority.

    • NotThaiPilot June 8, 2024

      I wouldnt worry much about that – highly corrupted and mostly incompetent CAAT has never cared much about safety and thai aviation sector has no stellar safety reputation either. Foreign pilots coming in from countries with reputable aviation culture can only make things better.

  14. Stephen Green June 6, 2024

    Opening up to foreign pilots might restore some balance to the market. We need to think globally.

    • Alfie June 6, 2024

      A global mindset is great, but what happens when our local industries are thrown under the bus?

  15. Scarlett Smith June 6, 2024

    We need innovation in how we handle this crisis. Why not subsidize pilot training programs just like how we did before the pandemic?

    • Harry June 6, 2024

      Subsidizing would be great, but where’s the funding going to come from? The economy is already strained.

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