Airports of Thailand (AoT) President Nitinai Sirismatthakarn has warned that officials at Phuket International Airport will be “stricter” on people on the beach taking photos of aircraft flying overhead while landing over safety concerns as the airport enters its busy “winter” flight schedule.
AoT posted a warning yesterday (Sept 25) under the banner “Unseen Phuket”.
The notice warned against the use of drones, laser pointers, balloons, khom loy fire lanterns at the beach where planes pass very low overhead.
The notice also warned against kite-boarding in the waters near the end of the runway and even the use of the camera flash when taking photos.
Being found guilty of the law protecting the airport from safety and security risks can land convicted persons up 15-20 years in jail, or a fine of B600,000 to B800,000, the notice warned.
In the most heinous of cases, the law may carry the death penalty – a fact highly publicized around the world earlier this year in news reports claiming that the death penalty could be invoked against people simply taking selfies on the beach as planes flew past overhead.
The wild “death penalty for selfies” reports were summarily dismissed by Phuket International Airport General Manager Thanee Chuangchoo.
Mr. Thanee called the spurious reports “incomplete”, noting that they focused on the most serious of punishments available under the law reserved for those who endanger lives.
“Taking selfies or pictures of aircraft while standing on Mai Khao Beach will not incur the death penalty,” Mr. Thanee said.
“But if people take any action which is harmful or disturbs the piloting of any aircraft, such as distracting pilots by pointing laser pens at them or flying drones in the area, such behaviour will see the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) invoke the law,” he added.
AoT President Nitinai Sirismatthakarn explained in a video called “Khui Hai Khit Kub Nitinai” posted on the official AoT YouTuber channel that the warning comes as Phuket airport is about to enter its busy “winter” schedule.
“This October will be in the Winter Schedule period when airplanes land from the Mai Khao Beachside. Right now we are still in the Summer Schedule period, so airplanes land from the opposite side.
“From October on, we will see lots of selfies with airplanes on social media,” he added.
“After this October, airplanes will land on the beachside, and we will be more strict, not only in Phuket. We discussed with relevant officials and concluded that there should not be photography in the area.” Mr. Nitinai said.
“There are two issues. We can see that there is only a small space between the runway and the fence (near the beach). Big airplanes create wind from their engines. We care about tourists’ safety because if they take photos on the beachfront, they may be in danger from the wind,” he said.
Regarding the death penalty issue involved, Mr. Nitinai explained, “Death is not the penalty for taking photos of airplanes, but it is for using flash or laser pointers.
“I saw a photo that showed a tourist throwing a stone at an airplane that was flying quite low. One of the people in the photo was taken for questioning about whether they threw the stone,” he noted.
If a simple action such as even throwing a stone caused very serious consequences, the person could face a large fine, Mr. Nitinai explained.
“If the plane crashes, that person could get life imprisonment or even a death sentence,” he said.
“People don’t know how much a camera flash affects pilots, so we are asking people to not use them. But if someone points a laser or throws a stone at an airplane, everyone on the beach will be taken in for questioning to find out who is responsible,” Mr. Nitinai assured.
Asked why are taking photos allowed at other airports but Phuket airport is being so strict, he said, “Everywhere is under the same law. Taking photographs may not land you in prison, but you might be taken in for questioning.”
Mr. Nitinai also repeatedly said, “This is a national issue, we give safety priority.”