Japan, South Korea ease flight bans on Thai airlines

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Japan and South Korea authorities have eased flight bans on Thai airlines by allowing two long-haul, low cost carriers to fly charter flights for two months to reduce the impact on passengers, Thai officials said.

The two are NokScoot and Thai Air AsiaX, Somchai Piputwat, director general of Thailand's Department of Civil Aviation, told Reuters on Friday.

NokScoot, a joint venture between Thailand's Nok Airlines and a Singapore Airlines subsidiary, will fly empty planes from Singapore to pick up passengers in Bangkok before flying to Japan in April and May, Somchai said.

NokScoot chairman Patee Sarasin told Reuters he expected to receive formal permission from South Korean authorities in the next few days.

Thai AirAsiaX, part of Malaysia's AirAsiaX, will do the same but fly from Malaysia instead, Somchai said, adding the airlines need to get permission from three countries involved.

Nearly 150,000 passengers are expected to be affected after Japan and South Korea imposed bans last month on charter and new scheduled flights by Thai-registered airlines over safety concerns highlighted by an international audit.

Japan's aviation agency also allowed Thai charter flight carrier Asia Atlantic Airlines to fly in April and May after Thai authorities sent a new licence re-evaluation report to Japan's Civil Aviation Bureau, Somchai said.

Asia Atlantic, a joint venture between Thailand's Baiyoke Group and Japan's HIS Group, operates eight flights to Japan during Thai new year holidays in mid April, but it is still banned from flying to South Korea, said an airline executive, who declined to be named.

China, which previously banned some flights from Thai airlines, will not impose any restrictions on Thailand-registered airlines, Somchai said after Thai authorities visited China this week. "Thai airlines can fly to China as normal," he said, saying the previous ban was mainly because China wanted to reduce congestion among foreign tourists in the country and not related to security concerns.