Exclusive – Orient Thai in near-crash landing

Orient thai startThailand’s charter airline Orient Thai, known for several incidents in the past, has made a near-crash landing at Surat Thani airport in Thailand’s south on the evening of July 31, carrying Chinese passengers from Shenzen to the holiday island of Phuket.

According to people at the scene, the Orient Thai plane had to do an emergency landing at Surat Thani airport for an undefined reason. Tires were bursting during the landing, causing the plane to get out of control. However, nobody of the 130 passengers and nine crew was injured. Surat Thani airport has been intermediately closed to clean up the runway.

The incident came just one day after Orient Thai said it has scaled down its domestic flights within Thailand to just one route, Bangkok-Phuket, in order to be able to operate more charter flights from China into Thailand.

In recent years, Orient Thai has geared up its charter operation, mainly ferrying tourists from more than 20 Chinese cities to Thailand to avoid competition in scheduled flights in Thailand. Orient Thai said it carried about 600,000 Chinese tourists to Thailand last year, and 70 per cent of its passengers are Chinese. It hopes to raise the number to one million in 2013, nearly 25 per cent of the expected Chinese arrivals.

However, the private airline has a poor safety record. In 2004, an Orient Thai 747 flew within 200 meters of Japan’s Tokyo Tower over the heart of downtown Tokyo. In 2007, a plane of its subsidiary One-2-Go crashed at Phuket airport, killing 89 people. In 2008, after the internet publication of illegally excessive work hours and check fraud Orient Thai and its subsidiaries were ordered to suspend service for 56 days due to failure to train, failure to have a safety programme and failure to supervise safe flight.

In travel forums on the Internet, Orient Thai is critised for flying with old planes and with poorly trained pilots.