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Rocket Festival Stirs Flight Safety Fears

Lao Airlines sought permission from Aerothai to change its flight paths in Thailand during the Buddhist Lent festival due to safety concerns

Aeronautical Radio of Thailand (Aerothai) wants stricter measures put in place to limit the height of traditional bang fai, or Isan rockets, to make it safer for aircraft.

Aerothai, which controls national air traffic, is proposing the National Council for Peace and Order better enforce restrictions on the height of the rockets launched during the three-month Buddhist Lent season, which begins on Saturday.

The agency is increasingly concerned with threats to aircraft safety posed by illegally modified rockets, which can reach as high as 20,000 feet, Aerothai president Sarinee Sangprasit said yesterday at a meeting to discuss safety measures during the festival period.

Bang fai rockets are launched as part of a merit-making ceremony popular in the northeastern region to celebrate the arrival of the rainy season. The rockets are believed to ensure plentiful rain for crops, and are allowed to legally launch as high as 7,000-8,000 feet, depending on the area.

But many participants have broken with tradition by making rockets with PVC tubes instead of the traditional wooden frame and using more powerful propellants. Events are also held off-season, Mrs Sarinee said.

Mrs Sarinee said gambling is a key factor which has driven rocket makers to find new ways to make their devices more powerful and launch the rockets off-season.

“Aerothai has no problem with traditional bang fai because they do not affect planes. What we worry about is the modified ones for gambling, which could interfere with aircraft flight paths,” Mrs Sarinee said.

The meeting yesterday agreed to present the concerns to the NCPO, asking that the issue be placed on the national agenda due to the widespread use of illegal rockets, she said. Urgent measures are needed before a plane is hit, the Aerothai president added.

Lao Airlines had already sought permission from Aerothai to change its flight paths in Thailand during the Buddhist Lent festival due to safety concerns, Mrs Sarinee said.

Failing to combat this problem could dampen confidence in the safety of aviation in Thailand, especially over the northeastern region. Mrs Sarinee said 25% of the 800,000 flights a year entering Thai airspace pass over the Northeast.

Aerothai received 1,200 notices of rocket festivals last year. The number is rising this year, with 800 filings in the first six months alone.

Aerothai requires rocket festival organisers to inform the agency in advance so pilots of domestic and international flights can be alerted, but it has no authority to ban the events.

Source: Bangkok Post