A January audit by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has raised serious safety concerns over Thailand’s commercial aviation standards. Already China, South Korea and Japan have stopped Thai carriers from flying charters and new routes because of safety concerns highlighted by the international safety audit.
The problem also threatens to become graver for Thailand should other jurisdictions including the US and the European Union take similar action, particularly if the ICAO downgrades Thailand from Category 1 to Category 2.
The UN organisation tasked with creating and monitoring global regulatory standards would only say that the audit, “revealed some safety concerns, primarily relating to air operator certification procedures,” according to Anthony Philbin, communications chief for the ICAO Secretary General in Montreal. The ICAO audit of the Thai Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) is part of its Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP) which it regularly carriers out on the civil aviation authorities of ICAO member states to ensure consistent global standard for aviation safety.
The results of the audit come as a blow to Thai carriers that have only just recently begun to recover after political protests resulted in a military coup and martial law – lifted only on 1 April – dampened tourist arrivals. The timing is particularly bad, as it comes just ahead of the peak travel season around the Thai Songkran New Year holiday in April. About 100 charter flights to Japan alone have been canceled and some 30,000 tickets either refunded or modified, Somchai Piputwat, the director general of Thailand’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), told media in Bangkok this week.
Industry sources say the most serious concerns involve shortcomings on safety regulations for low-cost carriers, including certifications for air operations and the transportation of hazardous goods. The impact of the audit will also be felt at Thai Airways International, which is in the midst of a major restructuring, and is also prevented from expanding its services.
Thailand’s civil aviation department did not give details of the ICAO’s concerns, but said it had submitted a plan to the ICAO to correct the issues identified and that additional training will be provided to its staff and the number of airline inspections will be increased. The plan, submitted on 2 March – has reportedly been rejected, because it proposed a two-year period to fix the problems.
Critics have said Thailand’s civil aviation sector suffers from frequent changes of government, corruption, complacency and incompetence. On professional pilots’ forums on the Internet, comments about the ICAO safety warning have prompted comments by industry workers alleging government inspectors were bribed with cash and massages to favorably sign off on paperwork.