Thaksin takes off the gloves

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has warned Thailand’s ruling generals on Tuesday that a prolonged stay in power will only worsen economic hardship in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

It is a statement of the obvious – but it came from long-silent Thaksin so it is significant, and it will upset the junta.

The junta, which took power following a May 2014 coup, has struggled to revive Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy amid falling exports and high household debt and critics say economic mismanagement is the biggest threat to its hold on power.

Speaking to Reuters in Singapore, Thaksin, 66, said the junta lacked the vision and talent to fix an economy in disarray.

Thaksin has also had interviews in the last week with the FT and Al Jazeera news. He is on a mission.


“It is a government with no freedom and no pool of talent to drive the economy,” Thaksin told Reuters. “The longer they stay, the longer economic hardship is going to be there.”

Thaksin on Tuesday denied long-standing reports he had struck a backroom deal with the military to leave his personal and family interests untouched in exchange for a retreat from politics.

“We are not talking. I have never telephoned anyone. I don’t know why I would get in touch with them and I have no need to,” Thaksin said.

Thaksin has lived in self-imposed exile for nearly eight years, mainly in Dubai.

In 2010, he urged his “red shirt” followers to mobilize protests calling for elections that ended in a bloody confrontation with the military in which more than 90 people died. His legacy of village welfare and cheap rural loans made him a hero in red shirt country in the rural north and northeast where he still commands huge respect.

But critics, including the urban elite, accuse Thaksin, a former police colonel turned telecoms tycoon, of widespread corruption. He was sentenced to two years in prison in 2008 for graft in a land purchase case, which he says was politically-motivated.

Thailand has gone through six prime ministers since Thaksin was removed in a 2006 coup and finds itself once again at a crucial political juncture.

The junta has promised elections next year. But some critics are skeptical, saying the military’s objective is to block Thaksin’s allies from returning to power and to consolidate the military’s own powers by writing them into a new constitution.

Thaksin’s decision to speak to media this week has riled the junta.

“He remains a person without credibility who thinks he is above the law,” government spokesman Major General Sansern Kaewkamnerd told reporters.

The government has rejected Thaksin’s offer to hold formal talks on the country’s political future.

“They said they can’t talk to me because of the cases against me but a coup is a bigger crime,” Thaksin said.

Thaksin, who said he spends his time meeting up with old friends including former heads of state, said he has adjusted to his nomadic life and makes, on average, 120 landings a year in his private jet.

He believes he will return to Thailand one day but won’t go back to face charges or live under house arrest because of previous assassination attempts.

“I am confident I can return,” he said. “I am not the bad person I am accused of being.”

Emirates adds combined Yangon and Hanoi

DSC_4438 IMG_4743From 3rd August 2016 Emirates will launch a daily service from Dubai to Yangon (RGN) in Myanmar; and continuing on to Hanoi (HAN) in Vietnam.

This new service will expand the airline’s network in Southeast Asia to 12 cities (including Cebu and Clark in the Philippines which start on March 30, 2016) in seven countries.

Hanoi will be Emirates’ second passenger destination within Vietnam, complementing Emirates’ existing service to Ho Chi Minh City which was launched in 2012 and a cargo-only service to Hanoi in 2013.

The three-class configured Boeing 777-300ER which Emirates will operate on the route offers 8 seats in First Class, 42 seats in Business Class and 310 seats in Economy Class.

Flights to Yangon and Hanoi will depart daily from Dubai as EK388 at 02:50hrs arriving at Yangon International Airport at 11:05hrs. The service will then depart from Yangon at 12:35hrs and arrive at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport at 14:50hrs. The return flight, EK389 will depart Hanoi at 22:50hrs, arriving at Yangon at 00:20hrs the next day. The service will then depart from Yangon at 01:50hrs and arrive at Dubai International Airport at 05:05hrs.

Eight hours on the ground in Hanoi seems wasteful but the timings do maximise the connections in both directions.

Bremain not Brexit

How did we get to this? Angela Merkel, like almost every leader in Europe, is determined to keep Britain in the EU. But she is annoyed that it has come to this. According to sources close to her, she blames Cameron for creating a mess in the first place, through failure to control his party and the dynamic that led to a referendum.

She is right. But we are where we are. None of this should ever have been necessary. Change the EU from within. Not have some unnecessary wasteful debate about whether we should leave something that as a nation we should be committed to.

A 23rd June referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Community. It really makes little sense. The British Isles are in Europe; it has fought for Europe. Europe would be poorer without Britain as Britain would be poorer without Europe.

The referendum will divide Britain in a way that should not have been necessary. It will raise the heat on immigration and immigrants. And of course it divides Europe – whose distrust of the British must be peaking.

Oddly it was back in 1975 that the UK held its referendum on EEC membership. It was the first time that I could vote – and at the time I was on the “no” side – largely because I did not believe we were being told all we needed to know about the costs and obligations of membership. But we voted yes – joined the EEC and this really should have been a once-off vote – in or out.

If you want to change how the EEC/EU works then change it from within.

Is the EU a good idea? Yes, fundamentally. Is it efficient? Not one bit. But instinctively we are stronger as Europeans than as members of what Emma Thompson wonderfully called “a tiny little cloud-bolted, rainy corner of sort-of Europe, a cake-filled, misery-laden, grey old island”.

Of course Ms Thompson was abused by the right wing media and others. The Sun calling her a “champagne socialist.”

David Cameron has spent months negotiating changes in Britain’s membership. The rest of Europe must be exasperated. Why should Britain be special? And who will now demand some sort of special status?

So who will be lined up on which side:

The pro-exit camp has two main groups, Grassroots Out and Vote Leave – one closer to UKIP the other to the more sceptic Tories. Both seem only to appeal to those who fear a more multi-cultural integrated society and who fear European (by which they really mean East European immigrants and a demand for Britain to take in Syrian refugees). These people want to build a wall around Britain.

Cameron’s cabinet is split. Supporting an EU exit are Michael Gove, the justice secretary joined by Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, John Whittingdale, the former Thatcher aide who is now culture secretary, Chris Grayling, the leader of the Commons, Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland secretary, and Priti Patel, the employment minister who attends cabinet.

Gove’s statement today at least added some intellectual weight to the exit campaign.

“I cannot duck the choice which the prime minister has given every one of us. In a few months’ time we will all have the opportunity to decide whether Britain should stay in the European Union or leave. I believe our country would be freer, fairer and better off outside the EU. And if, at this moment of decision, I didn’t say what I believe I would not be true to my convictions or my country.”

“Instead of grumbling and complaining about the things we can’t change and growing resentful and bitter, we can shape an optimistic, forward-looking and genuinely internationalist alternative to the path the EU is going down. We can show leadership. Like the Americans who declared their independence and never looked back, we can become an exemplar of what an inclusive, open and innovative democracy can achieve.”

The justice secretary showed his unease for the EU by blaming it for the rise of extremism. “Far from providing security in an uncertain world, the EU’s policies have become a source of instability and insecurity. Razor wire once more criss-crosses the continent, historic tensions between nations such as Greece and Germany have resurfaced in ugly ways and the EU is proving incapable of dealing with the current crises in Libya and Syria … All of these factors, combined with popular anger at the lack of political accountability, has encouraged extremism, to the extent that far-right parties are stronger across the continent than at any time since the 1930s.”

That seems extreme; it is hard to picture the EU as the source of extremism. That finger might indeed be pointed at the likes of UKIP, who Gove is now allied with.

On the stay in side is this unlikely mix of Tories, Labour and the few remaining LibDems. The prime minister and the leader of the Labour Party will be making wholly contradictory cases for staying in the EU.

David Cameron will argue that he has bravely secured a new settlement with the EU to protect the UK from too much Brussels interference. Not really. Not much has changed.

Cameron wants less European regulation of our banks and businesses, Corbyn wants more.

Corbyn wants an EU that shapes social protection of workers. And that is the last thing the prime minister could ever campaign for, if he wants to remain leader of the Tories.

Basically little has changed. Britain has always been something of an EU exception. Not needing to join the euro, retaining passport controls and not being in the Schengen free travel zone, enjoying Britain’s big budget rebate, not having to join common EU policies on justice and home affairs.


The trouble with Cameron is that he has spent his entire decade as party leader undermining support for the EU.

The EU faces real substantive issues. It has looked weak, split and immobilised over the migration crisis. It looked clueless when faced by the euro’s weakness; austerity was a predictable but wrong answer.

The EU has fumbling over the Ukraine and Crimea; it has been ineffective in dealing with Putin.

Britain has made no contribution to these real issues.

Instead Britain has forced the EU to debate the precise size of payment of child benefit to very few children of EU migrant workers. Mean-spirited. Meanwhile Osborne’s has tried to restrict EU regulation and taxation of our tax haven City of London – where barely an ethical bone exists.

As for resigning from an “ever closer union”, that looks peculiarly empty when the EU is pulling itself further apart.

Cameron’s pettiness has demeaned and embarrassed Britain. Joining a large group means group decisions, but together garnering more power against global forces. Work from withing not from without.

It is easy to forget why the EU exists. Securing democratic freedom was its founding postwar purpose, which explains the hasty eastward enlargement when the Berlin Wall fell. Former communist countries, and Greece, Spain and Portugal, were all embraced, regardless of economic cost.

The EU was a beacon of decency. And that is why we should be a part.

Instead the biggest fear is that the in/out debate becomes a referendum on immigration. Barrier Britain. But remember a leave vote doesn’t secure us against global mass movements.

Who are the British? Where do they belong in the world? What’s the future for their long-term interests? And which allies are closest to their own values? Answer those questions and you will know why we should never have even got this far.

Jeremy Corbyn understands why Britain should remain in the EU – “It’s because being part of Europe has brought Britain investment, jobs and protection for workers, consumers and the environment. We are convinced that the EU is a vital framework for European trade and international cooperation in the 21st century, and that a vote to remain in Europe is in the best interests of our people.”

Corbyn will lead the Labour campain to create real change in Europe based on opposition to austerity and a Europe of sustainable growth, jobs and social justice.

Four months of debate lie ahead. I suspect the real substantive issues will get little debate. But staying in the EU, as responsible, articulate participants, is the key to changing the EU.

Lets play EK ball

Emirates Airline announced today a new sponsorship deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the world’s biggest sports franchises.

Emirates will be the Official Airline Sponsor of the Dodgers in a deal to mark its entry into the world of baseball.

Bit odd really – as the Dodgers National League games are all domestic so the Dodgers will not be flying of their official airline.

As part of the agreement, Emirates will have home plate and foul pole signage and will open a new Emirates Lounge, a 70 person hospitality space.

In addition, Emirates will feature in-game activations, occasional ceremonial first pitches and fan appreciation activities.

To extend the partnership, the Dodgers will be sponsoring the Dubai Little League All Star Travel Teams, which will now go by the name the Dubai Dodgers. That is a fun part of the deal.

The new partnership with the Los Angeles Dodgers continues Emirates’ sports sponsorships. Emirates football sponsorships include AC Milan, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Olympiacos FC, Hamburg, and Paris Saint-Germain.

In recent years, Emirates has also expanded its presence in tennis with a sponsorship portfolio that includes the US Open, the Emirates Airline US Open Series, the Australian Open, the Emirates Airline Australian Open Series as well as the French Open.

In the US, Emirates is also the main sponsor of the New York Cosmos, the US Rugby Team and the San Francisco Symphony.

“Baseball is a sport that unifies many communities across the US. The spirit of competition and fair play, the continuous drive to excel, and ability to foster a shared passion and connection with its fans – these are all values we share at Emirates,” said Sir Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airline.

“This is a historic partnership as it is Emirates’ first major league team sponsorship in the US. We are proud to be the Official Airline partner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are an innovative and cutting edge organization not just in the world of baseball, but also in the broader realm of popular sports and culture. We look forward to a long-term partnership with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and to working with them to support and connect fans and the community to the team.”

Michael Young, Dodgers’ senior vice-president, Corporate Sponsorships, added: “We look forward to working with Emirates and their great staff in activating our multi-year partnership with our fans.”

Emirates first launched services between its hub in Dubai and Los Angeles in 2008. As demand grew, in 2013 Emirates began flying the A380 aircraft to serve LA travelers. Starting July 1, Emirates will bring a second daily A380 service to Los Angeles, offering a total of 980 seats per day flying from Los Angeles International Airport to Dubai.

The Los Angeles Dodgers franchise has won six World Series championships and 21 National League pennants since its beginnings in Brooklyn in 1890.

Nok – ed out re-visited

Remember the story from the weekend about Nok Air pilots striking because the airline had told them that they did not meet the ICAO safety standards.

At least that was the version stated by the airline’s CEO, Patee Sarasin.

On Monday Nok Air stated that one employee had been fired and two others suspended.

Sanit Kongpetch, a pilot and the airline’s manager of flight standards, was fired without severance or compensation for an unspecified “offense against the company.”

Two other unidentified employees were suspended for eight days while seven others face an inquiry, according to the document signed by Nok Air CEO Patee Sarasin.

The airline contends the strike began after a number of pilots failed to pass a new assessment made to bring the airline in line with international safety standards.

At long last the media decided to ask the pilots what is happening….and their story is very different. The pilots say the dispute is about internal company issues.

Mr. Sanit has since complained that he was unfairly dismissed and he said the cancellation of nine flights on Sunday was due to an acute shortage of pilots.

Mr Sanit Kongpetch claimed that he was not on duty on Sunday and had just recovered from illness when he was asked by the company to report to work.

However, he said that he told the supervisor in charge of the pilots that he was not mentally fit to fly and asked to return to rest insisting that a pilot who was stressed or sick should not be allowed to fly because it might affect the safety of the passengers.

The pilot also dismissed the management’s claim that the pilots who went on strike on Sunday because they were dissatisfied because they failed the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) standard test.

“EASA test is meant to test the company’s aviation safety standard and not to test the pilots,” said Mr Sanit.

That sounds sensible.

Nok Air’s CEO had a different theory and said that Sanit signed up to fly but 15 minutes before he was due to fly he disappeared and could not be reached while the co-pilot was waiting in the cockpit.

He said there was no way for the company to find a substitute for Mr Sanit within 15 minutes and the flight had to be cancelled.

What is strange is why the airline does not have pilots in reserve to fly in the event that pilots are sick or for other reasons unable to fly?

Sanit stated that Nok Air had recently lost many pilots to other airlines.

The Nok Air CEO tweeted Monday afternoon that he would not speak to the media until the company finalizes a plan to address the problem, possibly by Thursday.

Nothing like leading from the front Khun Patee and reassuring your passengers and staff.

But then Khun Patee know his priorities; he failed to attend a government meeting with airline executives on Monday because he was filming a commercial in Hua Hin.

The CEO did attend the Transport Ministry on Tuesday, and said that the strike was caused by management’s decision to have the pilots choose to be either executives or pilots, a safety measure aimed at separating duties. At least his story is consistent.

In that typical Thai news way we will probably never get an honest version of the issues and events at Nok Air in the last week. But it sounds like an organisation that needs real leadership that builds trust with the media, passengers and regulators.

There was a further update from Khaosod English on Wednesday 17th – Nok Air Denies Flying Unqualified Trainee Pilots

Nok – ed out

Sometimes it does seem that Nok Air’s CEO, Patee Sarasin, is no more than a self-publicist…..he seems disconnected from both how to run an airline and how to interact with his passengers.

He is active on twitter; he hires only young women as cabin crew; he gets publicity for the airline through a crew recruitment reality show.

But his recruitment policy is depressingly sexist with a focus that appears more about image than safety.

The airline got some poor publicity earlier in the week when one of its ATR’s approaching Mae Sot in poor visibility appears to have missed its approach to the runway and flown far too close to the local hospital.

But today he truly appears to have lost the support of both pilots and customers….

There were chaotic scenes at Don Muang airport in Bangkok when the airline was forced to cancel the a number of flights because more than 10 pilots staged a strike after the airline apparently announced increased audit standards for the flight operations which meant that a number of the airline’s pilots did not meet the new criteria.

The new standards were to bring the flight operations department into line with those of the European Aviation Safety Agency.

But you cannot simply announce a change in the rules for your pilots without a discussion with them in advance.

The airline announced the cancellation of the eight flights at 3pm. All were scheduled to leave Don Mueang airport late in the afternoon to Chiang Mai, Khon Khaen, Hat Yai, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Surat Thani, Phitsanuloke, Phuket and Ubon Ratchathani.

Mr. Patee said to the Bangkok Post that “I am confident that there will be no problem with flight cancellations tomorrow as Monday is a normal working day when the full administration resources and back-up plans are in place.”

Hang on – Sunday is the busiest day of travel for Thailand’s LCCs as passengers return to their homes ready for a new work week. This is one day of the week when the airline needs its back-up plans to be ready to go.

Don Mueang airport director Petch Chancharoen said the airline had to arrange accommodation for the stranded travellers if it could not find alternative flights for them and described the situation at the airport as chaotic.

Meawhile the CEO has been silent on twitter and has not met with the passengers impacted by this action.



Trouble ahead for Hong Kong

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It was always likely that the activism seen in Hong Kong in the 2014 Umbrella Movement would reappear in some form.

This last week has seen the unlikely named “fishball revolution” erupt on the streets of Mongkok.

It sounds like a joke, but when you look at the footage coming out of Hong Kong you realise it is anything but.

Bloodied protesters, an injured policeman on the ground being attacked, warning shots fired in the air, 50 people arrested, almost 100 injured. Images that were seen around the world.

There is an anger and alienation that pits the pro-Beijing government against a population, especially the young, who want western-style freedoms; more than that they want a more egalitarian society in Hong Kong and a say in its governance.

The fishball protests exploded on the streets of Mong Kok, the shopping heart of the Kowloon peninsula, at the start of Chinese New Year.

The police had planned to close down the district’s unlicensed food stalls, which sell fishballs on skewers and other traditional Chinese snacks. Bad and unnecessary timing. These vendors have been on the Mongko streets forever.

The news leaked out, and protesters organised on social media ahead of the raids, and the standoff that resulted spilled over into violence as darkness closed in.

Why fight over fishballs? Street food is part of the culture of Hong Kong. The street stalls are very much part of Hong Kong’s culture, but they’ve been disappearing as part of the process of redevelopment and urban renewal.

Fishball stalls represent the Hong Kong working class like no other institutions can.

Although the protests targeted local law enforcement, it appears to many Hong Kongers that the actions of the police are becoming synonymous with those of mainland authorities. These protests reflect not just the tension between residents and local authorities, but issues Hong Kongers have with the mainland itself.

On social media the rioting was held up by some as a righteous political protest. But most Hong Kong residents were appalled. Their city is renowned for the peacefulness of its many protests.

Not since the 1960s, during the madness of Mao’s Cultural Revolution in mainland China, have the territory’s streets seen such bloodshed.


There is a deep mistrust of CY Leung and his government. Anxieties have been fuelled by the apparent abduction in recent months of five Hong Kong booksellers by Chinese agents—three while visiting mainland China, one from a resort in Thailand and another from Hong Kong itself. Many suspect that the men were “disappeared” because of plans to publish a tell-tale book about China’s president, Xi Jinping.

The months ahead in Hong Kong will not be calm. Elections will be held this year for the Legislative Council; and there will be a (rigged) election in 2017 for the chief executive.

The Chinese government could help Hong Kong by releasing the booksellers and by heeding calls for political reform. The “one country, two systems” formula depends on preserving Hong Kong’s freewheeling way of life.

But China rules by intimidation not by conciliation.

The bottom line is that Hong Kongers feel they are being subsumed by China in various ways. Politically, domestic freedoms and autonomy under Hong Kong Basic Law appear to be eroding. This is exemplified by the abduction last year of five Hong Kong booksellers.

Most tellingly, the underlying grievances that helped fuel the Occupy Central protests of 2014 have not diminished. The incidents this week demonstrate that grassroots tensions have reached the point where small-scale incidents are increasingly likely to spark larger protests.

Hong Kong and its Chinese overlords need to be wary and look at history – the American Revolution began with a riotous tea party.

Flydubai’s 2015 profit fall

Flydubai reported a 60 per cent drop in net profit in 2015, as the strong US dollar and a challenging trade environment weighed on earnings.

Flydubai has a 31 December year end unlike Emirates which reports the year to 31 March.

The low-cost carrier yesterday reported Dh100.7 million of profit in 2015, compared to Dh250m a year earlier. It generated Dh4.9 billion in revenues, reflecting an increase of 11 per cent over 2014. During the year flydubai carried 9.04 million passengers, an increase of 25 per cent over 2014.

It is a wafer thin profit margin. But (and not every report has noted this) EBITDAR reduced slightly compared to the previous year, but remained healthy at 20.5% of revenue. EBITDAR is an accounting proxy for cash flows.

The revenue per passenger figure of AEd542 is worth noting as well; basically usd150 per passenger. This figure is higher than reality since revenue includes some cargo revenues – though an LCC FlyDubai does maintain a cargo operation.

With full year revenue up just 11% while passenger numbers increased by 25% there is clear pressure in yields.

Revenue passenger kilometres, a measure calculated by multiplying the number of revenue-paying passengers by the distance travelled, was “under pressure”, the airline said. This was owing to a stronger dollar, a challenging trading environment and the suspension of flights on some routes.

“The overall trading environment has remained challenging, but we have maintained our growth story and ended the year positively,” said Ghaith Al Ghaith, the flydubai chief executive.

During the first half of 2015, flydubai reported a loss of Dh147.4m on the back of lower Russian demand and the suspension of flights to Iraq, Yemen and parts of Ukraine. Yet it turned around its performance in the second half of the year with a Dh248 million profit helped by lower fuel prices and efforts to manage costs.

As the price of crude oil slumped from US$114 per barrel almost two years ago to about $30 per barrel, flydubai, like other carriers, has benefited from the fuel discount.

Fuel costs fell to 30.3 per cent of its operating costs, with 59 per cent of fuel costs unhedged.

The carrier will start to receive 16 new aircraft from May phased over the following two years.

It also plans to retire seven aircraft to maintain a young fleet. Currently the discount carrier flies to 89 destinations in 43 countries.

“Our network is maturing and so we continue to monitor capacity and review the opportunities for existing routes as well as for new routes,” said Mr Ghaith.

There was no mention of the average load factor.

in support of its growing fleet flydubai staff numbers rose to a total of 3,393 including 658 pilots, 1,435 cabin crew and 273 engineers representing 114 nationalities.

This was Flydubai’s fourth profitable year in succession. The airline has connected Dubai to cities that had not previous access to the middle east’s premier business and travel hub.

The original mandate expected Flydubai to serve many second and third tier cities in India; but the airline’s access to India has been greatly restricted by the bilateral agreement between India and the UAE.

Instead FlyDubai has pioneered routes to smaller GCC cities, into Africa and into the Russia and FSU states. It remains a small, versatile and creative operation.


A Burj too far?

Time Out asked what shall we call the new tower?

Well Burj Dubai is still available after the 2010 renaming of what became the Burj Khalifa.

Failing that – the Burj Unnecessary might do!


Yesterday a new tower that will become the centrepiece of Emaar’s Dubai Creek Harbour project was approved by Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

The tower’s height and name has not yet been revealed, but the developer said it would “comparable in greatness and in height” to the Burj Khalifa and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Of course!

The building has been designed by Santiago Calatrava Valls, a Spanish/Swiss architect, who has worked on the World Trade Centre Transportation Hub in New York, the Spire Tower in Chicago and the Olympic Sports Complex in Athens.

The tower will be “directly linked to the central island district of Dubai Creek Harbour with a vibrant 4.5km creek boardwalk offering an array of retail, dining, leisure and entertainment choices”, Emaar said in a statement released on Saturday.

Does that sounds a bit too much like the pr work for the new canal being built through decimated Safa Park?

It looks pretty – but in other news 50% of Dubai developments due to complete in 2015 failed to do so and have been delayed. The DWC airfield is way behind schedule. Maybe it is time to get some things finished before building the next destination/vanity tower?