Royal expenses

10 09 2009

Also available as ค่าใช้จ่าย แห่งราชวงศ์

PPT had a post on the 9.9.09 auspicious day events for Abhisit Vejjajiva and his government. Now the Bangkok Post (10 September 2009: “First new royal aircraft arrives”) reports on another event from that auspicious day, which throws just a tiny bit of light on the expenses incurred by the Thai taxpayer in funding royal events, security and travel.

Air force chief Itthaporn Subhawong presided over a ceremony at 9.09am on 9.9.09 receiving the first of four new ATR 72-500 royal aircraft. These are the most up-to-date ATR 72’s currently being delivered and is the same model as the Bangkok Airways plane that skidded off the runway at Koh Samui in August 2009.

The air force is reported to have ordered the four aircraft “at a cost of 3.65 billion baht at the time of the Surayud Chulanont government” following the 2006 coup. The cost is said to cover “the aircraft, their interior design, the ground equipment, spare parts, training and two standard hangars.” The air force also sent eight pilots to France for training on the ATR 72-500.

PPT has no expertise in aircraft cost, but this does seem a huge cost when compared to similar prices paid by other airlines.

It  is said that “one plane will be used to transport the royal family, one will serve as a back-up and the other two will serve other VIPs.” The air force chief said that the “air force had ordered the ATR 72-500 because the royal family was very busy and the [new] medium-sized aircraft could land at most airports.” The short runway capability is said to be required as the “air force is often required to use C-130 transports to serve the royal family when they need to land at an airport with a short runway.”

The existing royal air fleet includes “a Boeing 737-800 deployed in 2006, an Airbus 310-300 used as a back-up and deployed in 1991 and an Airbus 319 CJ for other VIPs.”

Because of “sensitivities,” there are seldom reports of the cost to taxpayers of maintaining the royal household. One figure seen by PPT, based on some analysis of Bureau of Budget papers, suggests that this amounted to more than 6 billion baht in 2008, mainly for the Royal Household Bureau (more than 2 billion), royal overseas visits (500 million), Royal Thai Aid-De-Camp Department (over 400 million) and the rest being for security by the police and army. This figure did not appear to include the cost of the royal plane fleet listed in this report.

That makes the world’s wealthiest royal family a pretty expensive proposition for the taxpayer. If any PPT readers have more details, PPT would like to know more.

Update: Matichon has a story on the planes (9 September 2009: ทอ.เตรียมทูลเกล้าฯเครื่องบินพระราชพาหนะ 4 ลำ) and Prachatai (10 September 2009: “Air force provides new planes for the Royal Family”) has details.

Air force chief Itthaporn said that the “Air Force had sent 8 pilots to be trained in France…. The Air Force has carefully selected pilots to be sent for the training, considering their special qualities according to Military Plan 999 which concerns the security of the Royal Family.”

PPT had not heard of this plan previously. It would be interesting to see.

Apparently the air force is going to have to take another 8-10 months to fully train its personnel and before it can use the aircraft with any royals in order to ensure that “royal flights [have] … maximum safety. When they are ready, we will present the planes to the Royal Family. When all the four planes are handed over, they should be sufficient to support royal duties. When it is time to provide more, we will have to do our duty, because the royal planes are retired after only 15 years for maximum safety…”.

The chief revealed that “the procurement of the fleet is sponsored by the government under the tied budget for 2007-9, without any budgetary restraint.” While the “Air Force’s procurement plan for other aircraft has been affected, as the budget was cut,” the chief felt the need to state: “the Air Force was fully supported in procuring the new royal fleet.”

Interesting, as the report points out that the air force had its budget cut by “3 billion baht compared to the previous year’s budget.” This meant that all “Air Force procurement plans therefore have to be postponed.”


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