Thai aviation reels from US safety downgrade

Thai Airways claims it will not be affected by the downgrade. Source: Wikimedia

Thai officials have acknowledged weaknesses that caused the USA to downgrade the safety rating of its aviation industry.

The Federal Aviation Administration relegated Thailand to a “category-two” rating, meaning its civil aviation authority was deficient in one or more key areas.

“Thailand does not comply with International Civil Aviation Organisation safety standards,” the FAA announced. It audited Thailand’s civil aviation authority in July as part of its role in ensuring airlines flying to the United States meet international standards.

Thai airlines will not be allowed to establish new services to the US under the new status.

In response, Thai Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said that the main concerns among the 33 points raised by the FAA were inadequate manpower and training, and insufficient vetting for pilot licences.

“We had limitations in training our people to become inspectors,” Arkhom said. “We have 2,300 pilots and they have to renew their permits. We don’t have enough people to inspect and grant the permits.”

Tourism accounts for about 7 per cent of the Thai economy.

The FAA announcement could influence aviation authorities in other countries, which could lead to measures against the flag carrier, Thai Airways, although it claimed it would not be affected.

Arkhom said recertification would be carried out of the 28 of Thailand’s 41 airlines that fly internationally.

Industry sources said the safety downgrade would hamper all Thai carriers working with a US airline in code-share agreements, as Thai Airways does for some destinations.

They said the situation could become more severe if the European authorities followed the FAA.

The FAA said its downgrade meant Thailand lacked the laws or regulations to monitor air carriers in line with international standards.

The regulator said those areas could include technical expertise, trained personnel, record-keeping, or inspection procedures.

Thai airlines will not now be allowed to establish new services to the US.

Bangkok-based aviation expert Alan Polivnick said the FAA decision would lead its counterparts consider their position.

“The FAA’s downgrade is significant and unfortunate,” he said. “The Thai government has tried very hard to meet the standards required.”

He predicted that Europe would probably follow with rulings against individual airlines into the EU.

Aviation specialist Ellis Taylor of Flightglobal said: “Should Europe turn around and place Thailand on its blacklist, that would have a much greater impact on Thai Airways, as it is quite reliant upon European traffic and in turn so is much of the Thai tourism industry.

“Bangkok Airways could also be affected, as it could jeopardise the interline relationships they have with European airlines, which it is reliant upon.”

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