Thai Airways International is facing even more difficulty amid a financial crisis after it emerged the national carrier has lost more than 200 pilots in the past five years - with rival airlines luring many of them with more money.
THAI yesterday said it had been losing up to 40 pilots a year, a figure that was expected to be repeated this year as some accepted the offer of early retirement.
It denied a rumour that 200 pilots handed in their resignations together this year because of concerns about the airline's financial situation.
THAI has about 1,350 pilots.
Siwakiat Jayema, acting president of THAI, said many pilots had joined other major airlines.
"It's life, people just can change jobs if they can earn more money," he said.
The news of the personnel losses came as THAI attempts to reverse its financial losses. Amid fierce competition and high operating costs, it has posted losses for five straight quarters. Athisak Padchuenjai, executive vice president of THAI's operations department, said the company had not been subject to the bulk resignation of 200 pilots as reported in the media.
In a statement, he said pilots resigned each year - a normal practice that did not have an impact on operations. THAI recognised that at the present time there was high demand for trained commercial pilots, which might be the cause of the rumours.
Montree Jumrieng, THAI's acting executive vice president for corporate strategy and sustainable development, said many of the airline's pilots were offered jobs by major carriers, especially from the Middle East, and low-cost airlines that paid very well.
He said Japan Airlines was understood to be paying pilots as much as Bt1 million per month while carriers in the Middle East like Emirates were paying up to Bt700,000 per month. THAI pilots earn up to Bt240,000 a month, excluding flight-hour allowance.
He added that foreign airlines offered other attractive incentives such shorter contracts, more job security and an extended retirement age of 65 - five years more than THAI.
THAI pilots are contracted to work for a minimum of four years and need to notch eight years at the carrier to be promoted to captain.
"THAI has been producing qualified pilots for years, but when they have experience or after serving their minimum requirement [of years], then they can leave the company," Montree said.
He said that overall THAI's operations were functioning as planned but there might be the need for some short-term flight-management revision because of a lack of experienced pilots - not a big deal. THAI was hiring retired pilots on yearly contracts to ease the problem.
He added that the airline would recruit 10-20 more student pilots this year than last year, with 100 targeted.
In the past, THAI recruited a lot of student pilots from the Royal Thai Air Force Academy.
According to Montree, it costs Bt4 million over two years to train a pilot, meaning the airline would spend Bt400 million on the exercise over the next two years.
Siwakiat said the airline had a rehabilitation plan focused on boosting revenue and cutting costs.
The plan is being overseen by a newly established subcommittee. Its members were picked by the junta's "superboard" that was set up to monitor state enterprises, and they came from THAI management, its board and the superboard itself.