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New Thailand Airline Caught Up in Political Storm

Jan 04, 2014 4:00 am

Skift Take

Thailand has enough on its hands without this distraction about ownership of the startup airline New Gen Airways.

— Dennis Schaal

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New Gen Airways is scheduled to take off in mid-January amid an ambiguous link between the start-up charter airline and red-shirt leader Arisman Pongruangrong and his wife Rapipun.

Definite ownership of the carrier, now a centre of attention among followers of Thai politics, has not been spelled out.

But an airline executive yesterday promised management details will be revealed on Jan 16.

Sabaidee Airways Co, the airline’s nominal owner, has set that day for the Bangkok debut of the airline, which will primarily operate charter flights ferrying Chinese tourists to Thailand and back.

But the airline’s website said Sabaidee was founded by unnamed Thai businessmen operating an in-bound Chinese tourism business under the name of New Generation Travel & Trade Co.

The Bangkok-based New Generation Travel & Trade is described as a top travel agency in Thailand specialising in bringing 20,000 tourists from 14 Chinese cities to Thailand each month.

Mrs Rapipun created a stir on Tuesday when she posted a message and a picture of herself and her husband posing with a used New Gen Airways’ Boeing 737-400 at Don Mueang airport and asking people to support the airline.

Mr Arisman, a singer-turned-politician, is firmly in the Pheu Thai Party camp. His activities at the time of the 2010 riots in Bangkok led to him being accused of terrorism.

Questions abound as to how the couple could afford to invest in a capital-intensive business such as an airline.

On Thursday, Mr Arisman reportedly told local media that he will only help to manage New Gen, saying it belongs to his “pals”. The airline was registered with the standard minimum capital of 200 million baht.

A New Gen executive yesterday confirmed the airline has received an operating licence from the Civil Aviation Department and will take to the skies in mid-January.

Yesterday a Boeing 737-400 single-aisle jet in New Gen livery could be seen at Don Mueang airport, and the executive said another, similar aircraft, also second-hand, will arrive next Friday.

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