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Thursday, 24 May, 2001, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Thai PM: National airline 'sucks'
Thai firefighters spray water over the burnt Boeing 737
The airline is still reeling from a bad accident in March
Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has sharply criticised the country's national airline in an interview with a local newspaper, describing it as "terrible".

If I were not a public figure, I wouldn't fly with Thai. It sucks

Mr Thaksin
The prime minister slammed Thai Airways International for its high ticket prices, uncomfortable seats and poor service.

The airline's top executive agreed with him, saying improvement were needed.

Prime Minister Shinawatra told the Bangkok Post in its Thursday edition that he was "very happy" when he was not able to get a seat on the carrier.

Speaking in the Thai language, Mr Thaksin used the word "huay" to describe the airline - a derogatory word that can be translated as "it sucks", the paper's editor, Pichai Chuensuksawadi said.

Prime Minister Thaksin
Mr Thaksin was elected on a platform to improve the economy
The criticism is the latest damaging blow to Thai Airways, which is still reeling from an incident in March when a plane burst into flames while parked in Bangkok Airport, just minutes before the prime minister was due to board.

The incident, which killed one crew member and injured several others, was blamed on an accident, with sabotage ruled out.

The airline's reputation has also been damaged by a government report which revealed freeloading by politicians and top journalists and by accusations that the directors are government cronies.

Long-term plan needed

Mr Thaksin told the newspaper that Thai Airways needed to become more competitive, lacked a decent business plan and needed to work on better long-term planning.

Firefighters look at the burnt plane
The accident in March killed one person and injured several others
He said it was surviving through its bread-winning economy class seats, which could compete because they were "no different" from other airlines.

"Business class on other airlines is better than Thai's first class. Our fares are also higher," he said.

Thai Airways president Pisith Kusalasaiyanond admitted the comments were justified in an interview with local radio, saying the facilities needed to be improved.

But Surasith Sriprapa, the deputy chief of Thai Airways' labour union, said the comments would hurt morale.

"We are really upset about what he said," he told Associated Press news agency.

Thailand's finance ministry, which owns 93% of the airline, plans to reduce its stake to 70% through the sale of a 13% tranche to the public and staff, and 10% to a strategic partner.

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See also:

12 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Thai PM accepts accident theory
12 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Thai plane blast 'an accident'
03 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Fire destroys Thai airliner
09 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Thai parliament votes Thaksin as PM
26 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Thai party chief in corruption probe
13 Dec 98 | Asia-Pacific
Thai crash victims compensation offer
05 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Thaksin's rocky road to power
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