The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently downgraded the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) to a Category 2 from its Category 1 status.
Malaysia has maintained its Category 1 rating since 2003.
Other countries currently carrying Category 2 restrictions include Ghana, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Curaçao, and Thailand.
A Category 1 status indicates full compliance with standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). By contrast, a Category 2 rating means that a country’s aviation authority is deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record-keeping, and inspection procedures.
Malaysia failed to meet 33 sections of the FAA audit scores, from over 300 queries.
Officials in Malaysia however, were quick to point out that this downgrade does not mean that it is unsafe to travel with Malaysia-based airlines. Nor does it mean that the country’s airports lack the necessary safety standards.
Rather, it is CAAM as a body of authority overseeing the aviation sector that has fallen short of expectations.
Founder of aviation advisory firm Endau Analytics Shukor Yusof believes though that the downgrade is a timely wakeup call for the government to beef up aviation safety in the country.
“If the country’s regulator is not up to the mark, how can we trust it to supervise other safety aspects of the complex aviation sector?”
This downgrade also does not implicate any existing Malaysia-based carriers. In fact, these carriers are allowed to continue existing service to the United States.
But until a Category 1 status is reassigned to Malaysia, carriers will not be allowed to establish new service to the United States.
Moreover, carriers will be subject to additional inspections at all US airports.
AirAsia founder and group CEO Tan Sri Tony Fernandes remains unfazed about the downgrade. This no-frills low cost carrier will continue flying to the US via Japan.
“Whatever is in operations is in operations. We have many ways of getting to America”, Fernandes commented, referring to AirAsia X Bhd’s service to Hawaii via Osaka, Japan.
Malaysian Airlines however, is unlikely to escape unscathed. The FAA prohibits future codesharing agreements between American and Malaysian carriers.
The first casualty the national airline suffered has been American Airlines’ decision to discontinue its codesharing with Malaysian Airlines.
Passengers flying with the American carrier are now being advised to re-book their connecting flights with other Category 1 carriers in lieu of Malaysian Airlines.
Transport Minister Anthony Loke has since put together a task force with well-rounded expertise in aviation safety comprising four pilots, three engineers, and one technical coordinator.
This 8-member task force will be led at the helm by ex-Director General of Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation Kok Soo Chon. The aviation veteran oversaw the FAA’s last audit in 2003 when Malaysia successfully retained its Category 1 rating.