I am very pleased to be in Thailand. It is one of the world’s greatest tourism destinations and a hub for business in Southeast Asia. And aviation is a key enabler of both. In fact, Thailand is a great aviation nation. In terms of traffic Suvarnabhumi airport ranks among the world’s busiest. Similarly, Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways are both longstanding IATA members and recognized worldwide for the service they provide.

Aviation has a real impact on Thailand. We estimate that currently aviation and related activities account for some 2 million Thai jobs and generate $29 billion in GDP. And by 2035 we see that to growing to 3.8 million jobs and $53 billion in GDP. That’s a potential for 83% growth. That won’t happen without some effort. And I will address some specific issues for Thailand shortly. But before I do that, I would like to give you some context at the global and regional level.

Financial Situation

For all the value that airlines deliver, the industry has long struggled to turn a healthy—or sustainable—profit for their investors. With hard work and the confluence of some critical factors, we expect that airlines will deliver a $36 billion profit in 2016, for a 5.1% net margin. Even more significantly, airlines are starting to provide a normal return to their investors—without whose support we cannot meet the forecast demand for air travel. The average cost of capital is estimated at around 7.0% this year. And for the second year in a row—and only the second time in our history—airlines collectively are set to deliver a return in excess of that—8.6%.

What has happened? Certainly lower oil prices have helped. But it is not only that. Efficiency gains across the board are also making a significant and sustainable difference. Airlines now regularly fill over 80% of their seats. Newer generation aircraft are 15-20% more fuel-efficient. Consolidation, joint ventures and alliances are giving consumers more choice and helping airlines to be more efficient. Finally, demand for our product remains very strong. Last year we saw the strongest traffic growth in five years. And the ever-falling price of air travel is helping more and more people to take to the air.
But, I should also put some perspective on that profitability. First, on a per passenger basis airlines are making less than $10 for each passenger carried. So airline profits are still fragile in the face of any new taxes that our partners in government might be planning. Or higher prices being planned by some of our infrastructure partners.
Furthermore, the profitability is not evenly distributed. The majority of the industry’s profits are being generated in North America--$19.2 billion. On a per passenger basis they will retain over $21. Asia-Pacific airlines are expected to generate a $6.6 billion profit which equates to just over $5 per passenger.
Let me provide some even more dramatic numbers. In the final quarter of 2015 average EBIT margins for Southeast Asian carriers was 0.3%--the lowest among all regions except Africa, where losses were being generated. By comparison, we see the Middle East average at 10.8%, Europe at 5.9% and North America at 13.8%.
Why is this region, with so much potential, lagging in profitability? It is, after all, home to many well-managed airlines that enjoy excellent reputations for good customer service. I suggest these are some of the reasons:
  • First, while fuel prices have fallen, the value of the US dollar (in which this region’s carriers purchase fuel) has appreciated by some 20% on average. And airlines also pay many other things in US dollars as well.
  • Secondly, Asia-Pacific accounts for some 40% of global air cargo and the business has never been so tough. Globally, air cargo revenues peaked at $67 billion a few years ago. This year we anticipate revenues of $50 billion. I am still a long-term optimist on cargo, but there are severe challenges to improve the value proposition with improved technology and processes.
  • And thirdly, this region is home to ever-intensifying competition.
    • At the regional level, so-called “low cost” competition has a 54% market share—the highest in the world.
    • In parallel, the super-connectors of the Gulf have increased competition on what was a traditional market for Southeast Asian carriers—routes from Europe to Asia and down to Australia.
Of course competition is always a good thing. Consumers are getting a great deal. And it will get even better as airlines respond to changing consumer demands with innovation. But preserving a healthy air transport sector in Southeast Asia—and the economic and social benefits that it delivers—is much wider than an airline challenge. Governments and infrastructure providers will also need to contribute with efforts to keep costs low and efficiency high.


That is precisely what I have been in Thailand to discuss. I am concerned about three things:
  • Safety
  • Suvarnabumi Airport
  • Costs
And I would like to address them in that order.


On safety, it is deeply disappointing that Thailand—as a country—has been flagged for safety concerns. In June last year the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) raised the alert and ranked Thailand alongside Angola, Botswana, Djibouti, Eritrea, Georgia, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malawi, Nepal, Sierra Leone and Uruguay as countries where global standards for safety oversight have not been implemented.
A few months the later the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) came to the same conclusion and ranked Thailand in Category 2 of its International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA).
One thing that I want to be absolutely clear about is that these assessments look at what the government is doing—not the airlines.
As IATA members, Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways are both on the registry of the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA). And even non-IATA members—Thai Lion Air and Orient Thai—have attained IOSA registration. IOSA is not a safety guarantee, but any airline on the IOSA registry has demonstrated that they are operating to the highest global standards for operational safety management.
My message to the government is
  1. To address the concerns expressed in the ICAO and FAA reports thoroughly and urgently; and,
  2. To mandate IOSA for all of Thailand’s airlines. This would not absolve the government of its need to do better, but it would send a strong signal that Thailand is serious about its commitment to world-class safety.


The second point is that Suvarnabhumi has a major role to play regionally and globally. With passenger numbers topping 52 million annually it is a successful hub. But it has issues:
  • The terminal capacity needs urgent expansion. The airport was designed to handle 45 million passengers. It exceeds that today and traffic is growing at 10% annually. Over-crowding is a serious issue that will become critical very quickly.
  • There are safety concerns for the safety of the tarmac, taxiways and apron area because of soft spots. Aircraft get “stuck” in the soft surfaces that are the result of sub-standard materials.
How do we address these issues? The answer is to resolve them by focusing on improving Subarnabhumi. That may seem obvious—it is Thailand’s major gateway. But we are concerned about proposed solutions that would see traffic being dispersed amongst Don Mueang and U-Tapao.

What needs to be done?

  • First, we need a permanent solution to the “soft spots” at Subarnabhumi. There seems to be a constant resurfacing with a temporary patchwork of asphalt reinforcements. Frankly, that is not good enough. These are temporary fixes at best. And the runway and gate downtime that results from constantly fixing (and re-fixing) them is unacceptable. Literally, nothing less than a “concrete” solution will do. Moreover the situation is a safety risk. The extraordinary power that aircraft need to use around soft spots and extra-towing expose ground personnel, ground equipment and the aircraft to safety risks.
  • Second, we need to focus on capacity. The Phase Two terminal expansion is badly needed and should be fast tracked. For runway capacity, immediate capacity increases can be achieved through addressing the “soft spots” issue which will allow existing capacity to be used fully. But a third runway will be needed eventually. So it is important that work and preparations for a three runway system continue.
  • Third, Thailand needs a short and long term masterplan for airports that all stakeholders can support. And that should be developed in close consultation with industry. By working together in an environment of transparency the best decisions for the future of Thailand’s critical airport infrastructure can be made. IATA is eager to play a role in the process.


Lastly, Thailand needs to keep competitive. Recently we have been seeing Thailand’s aviation competitiveness being chipped away with various by taxes and charges:
  • Since December last year there has been a THB 35 fee per segment for an advanced passenger processing system
  • Airlines getting billed for overtime by immigration officers
  • There proposals to charge passengers for the general funding the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand and even a specific charge to support the salaries of safety officers in the Department of Civil Aviation.
Thailand ranks 35th in the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index. That is behind Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Mainland of China, Malaysia, South Korea, and Chinese Taipei…all competing for tourists in the same Asia region. It is important that we keep Thailand’s tourism industry competitive by keeping these costs in check.
As you can see, with this agenda I have had some very interesting meetings with government and other stakeholders here.
I look forward to your questions.