Incident with Nok jet draws new scrutiny
One-Two-Go Airlines is on the watchlist of aviation authorities and subject to more stringent safety standard certification, following a near-collision with another commercial aircraft on Dec 15.
Still reeling from the Sept 16 fatal crash in Phuket, the budget carrier faces fresh image problems related to the competence of its foreign cockpit staff and reliability of its ageing MD-80 jetliners.
Wuthichai Singhamanee, the deputy director-general in charge of safety at the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), said the airline needed to be placed under close scrutiny after the latest incident, details of which only emerged this week.
The incident took place over Nakhon Sawan when a One-Two-Go aircraft en route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, erroneously entered the flight ceiling assigned to Nok Airlines' Boeing 737-400, flying from Chiang Rai to Bangkok, causing potential for mid-air collision.
Disaster was averted thanks to the TCAS warnings on both aircraft. TCAS _ Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System _ is a computerised avionics device designed to reduce the danger of mid-air collisions between aircraft.
Since January 2005, all commercial aircraft registered in Thailand were required to be fitted with TCAS, which begins to sound off alarm when another flying object is about 10 km away.
Mr Wuthichai told the Bangkok Post that the latest incident would require DCA officials to personally carry out checks of the cockpit crew's competence rather than designating pilot trainers to do the job on its behalf.
The department will also review safety standards of One-Two-Go's aircraft at its next scheduled inspection.
Furthermore, a set of new regulations is being drafted by the DCA requiring foreign pilots working for Thailand-registered airlines to be knowledgeable and go through flight tests on simulators.
According to Mr Wuthichai, initial investigations showed that the One-Two-Go Airlines' pilots were ''negligent'' for not monitoring the flight status, failing to take immediate action when the auto-pilot was disengaged for some reasons that caused the aircraft to stray from its designated flight ceiling of 32,000 feet, to encroach Nok Air's authorised altitude at 33,000 feet.
The pilots on the One-Two-Go flight were Indonesians. The pilot who commanded One-Two-Go's Flight OG 269, which crashed at Phuket International Airport that left 89 dead and 41 injured, was also Indonesian.
The cockpit staff involved in the incident were grounded for one week by the airline itself after the event and the MD jet was later checked and cleared for service.
DCA director-general Chaisak Angkasuwan said the department had not taken any punitive action against the airline as the incident, in accordance with the internationally practised regulations, was not serious enough to warrant doing so.
The One-Two-Go/Nok Air incident was not unique. ''We see incidents of this nature happen ing once a month involving Thailand-registered aircraft operating on domestic and international routes.''
One-Two-Go founder and chief executive Udom Tantiprasongchai said it was too early to suggest whether the two aircraft were really in a ''near miss'' situation, or on the path of collision as some news reports indicated, pending investigation reports.
''If they were really on a collision path, the whole world should have known soon after it happened,'' he said.
Mr Udom said safety was not compromised, insisting that One-Two-Go had gone a long way to enhance its safety standards. ''We are confident in our safety.''