New aviation bill to allow 100 percent foreign ownership

Photo Courtesy of BOI

The sky is the limit for aviation companies investing in Thailand as the cabinet of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha voted in favor of a draft aviation law last week that will allow 100 percent foreign ownership of enterprises engaged in aircraft manufacturing, parts manufacturing, and maintenance, repair and overhaul.

The new law is part of the government’s strategy to raise the Kingdom’s role as an aviation hub and represents another step in the liberalization of Thailand’s aviation sector and foreign investment regime. It would supersede the country’s Air Navigation Act of 1954 that mandated 51 percent Thai ownership of any companies in the three categories.

Aviation and aerospace are among 12 industries targeted by the government for promotion and support under Thailand 4.0, the 20-year national strategy to transform the Kingdom into an economy and society driven by innovation, research and development, and higher technologies. The three-province Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) near Bangkok is the showcase development zone for the national strategy.

The Kingdom’s location and infrastructure have helped make it an aviation hub for Southeast and East Asia. Bangkok has two high-capacity international airports – Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang – and the development of U-Tapao Airport in the EEC to an international airport linked by high-speed rail to the other two will further advance Thailand’s aviation ambitions.

Nathporn Chatusripitak, an advisor to the Prime Minister’s Office, said that several aviation and aerospace companies have been voicing interest in investing in the EEC and had said they would prefer to able to hold the majority of shares in any possible enterprise. Some have already committed to invest, including Airbus of the European Union, and Britain’s Rolls Royce, which designs and manufactures aircraft engines.

Airbus has entered into a joint-venture agreement with THAI Airways International to build a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility at U-Tapao Airport in the EEC. “The new MRO center will be one of the most modern and extensive in the Asia-Pacific region, offering heavy maintenance and line services for all wide-body aircraft types,’’ Airbus said in a press release.

“The facility will feature the latest digital technologies to analyze aircraft maintenance data, as well as advanced inspection techniques, including the use of drones to monitor aircraft airframes,’’ the company added.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has forecast that Asia will be the continent with the highest growth in air traffic and in purchases of aircraft over the next two decades, a prediction that bodes well for Thailand’s goal of establishing itself as a premier aviation hub.