Japan, Korea clip Thai flyers' wings

Japan, Korea clip Thai flyers' wings

Move could affect civil aviation rating by ICAO

Thailand's aviation industry has begun to feel the pinch of Thai authorities' failures to comply with global standards, as Japan and South Korea have taken pre-emptive action to curb air service by Thailand-registered carriers in their countries.

Tokyo and Seoul civil aviation authorities this week banned new charter and scheduled flights operated by Thai-registered airlines to their countries, as they are doubtful of the Thai Civil Aviation Department's ability to meet international standards for aviation safety.

But scheduled and charter flights to Japan and South Korea already operating will be immune from the ban on the condition they do not change the types of aircraft serving those routes, aviation executives with knowledge of the issue told the Bangkok Post Thursday.

The decision has thrown Thai airlines focused on the two countries into disarray, with tens of thousands of Thai travellers affected.

The inauguration of service to Incheon airport, South Korea's gateway hub, by NokScoot, Thailand's No.2 low-cost long-haul carrier, that was scheduled for May 10 is now halted.

NokScoot's charter flights from Bangkok's Don Mueang airport to Japan starting from May 16 with 20,000 seats already sold are also suspended. Scheduled flights to Narita, the main airport serving Tokyo, by NokScoot now face further delays.

Thai AirAsia X, the country's first long-haul low-cost airline, planned to launch a daily service linking Bangkok with Sapporo, Japan on May 1, but that is now off the radar.

A host of smaller Thai charter airlines, which have sold thousands of seats to bring Thai Songkran revellers mostly to Japan next month, are also grounded.

Aviation executives expressed grave concerns the ban could snowball into a full-blown curb of all flights operated by Thai-registered carriers to Japan and South Korea or that other countries such as the US and China or EU members could take similar punitive action as Indonesia faced in the past.

"Thai aviation's credibility is seriously at stake and may take years to re-establish if the Civil Aviation Department fails to meet the global yardsticks," one executive said.

The department risks a downgrade by the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) from Category 1 to Category 2 as result of its recent audit covering a broad range of areas relevant to aviation safety and airline operations. But that is intended to assess the performance and expertise of the civil aviation authority and not of individual airlines.

Some of the main areas considered were personnel licensing and training, airworthiness assessment and certification, accident investigation and airline operations oversight and licensing.

Much speculation involves the shortage of inspectors and procedures for granting air operator licences and certificates of airworthiness as well as the conflict in allowing the Civil Aviation Department to license airlines and operate airports.

Industry executives said the department was able to meet only 21 out of 100 requirements imposed by the ICAO.

The department has been struggling to meet ICAO compliance under a 90-day grace period as the global aviation community has begun to cast a suspicious eye towards Thailand, another executive said.

An ICAO downgrade would not have an immediate effect on Thai airlines, but it could lead US and EU aviation safety authorities to review Thailand's aviation safety standards, Alan Polivnick of international law firm Watson Farley & Williams (Thailand) told the Bangkok Post.

"If the US Federal Aviation Administration downgrades Thailand to Category 2, Thai Airways could continue its flights to Los Angeles but could not add new US destinations or change the aircraft used on this route," he said.

Mr Polivnick said US carriers would immediately have to end code-shares with Thai carriers where the Thai carriers were the operating carrier, as happened to the Philippines and South Korea.

But an EU move would be more significant, given the traffic involved.

The EU blacklisted all 51 Indonesian carriers from European airspace in 2007 for two years, citing lax safety standards.

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