China joins chorus of dissenters banning flights

China joins chorus of dissenters banning flights

The sense of mistrust over Thailand's aviation safety standards is spreading internationally, clipping the wings of Thai-registered carriers.

China is the latest to join Japan and South Korea by blocking new flights from Thai airlines to their countries after the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) identified Thailand as a "state having significant safety concerns".

At least three countries - Japan, China and Singapore - have subjected aircraft operated by Thai airlines and their flight personnel to exhaustive physical inspections at their airports, industry executives with knowledge of the matter told the Bangkok Post Monday.

The executives said it was more than likely other countries would take similar actions against Thai airlines.

"It's not beyond the realm of imagination to think the US Federal Aviation Administration and the EU will soon come out with actions including a potential blacklisting," a veteran airline executive said on condition of anonymity.

Indonesia faced a blanket EU blacklist starting in 2007 due to lax safety standards.

If a blacklist actually took place, the US and EU carriers would also have to end code shares with Thai carriers immediately where the Thai carriers were the operating carrier.

The ICAO designation came after the "corrective action plan" submitted by Thailand's Civil Aviation Department to the ICAO on March 2 to address issues it raised was seen as "needing revision", Transport Minister Prajin Juntong said over the weekend.

The designation is seen as a possible prelude to the ICAO downgrading the country to Category 2 from Category 1 due to its recent audit that reportedly showed the Civil Aviation Department was able to meet only 21 out of 100 requirements imposed by the ICAO.

The audit covered personnel licensing and training, airworthiness assessment and certification, accident investigation and airline operations oversight and licensing.

The department was given a 90-day grace period, which has yet to expire, to comply with ICAO requirements.

On Monday, executives of affected Thai airlines  expressed disappointment over the failures of the Thai team, led by department director-general Somchai Piputvat, in securing leniency from Japan Civil Aviation Bureau officials after meeting in Tokyo.

NokScoot director Patee Sarasin described the remedial action taken by Thai authorities so far as "too late and too slow".

"We cannot afford to wait and we have to do something feasible and fast," he said.

The carriers, possibly including Thai Airways International, are due to meet today to formulate a plan to address the ban on both charter and scheduled flights to Japan and South Korea.

NokScoot, a joint venture between Thai budget airline Nok Air and Singapore's Scoot, will fly their leaders to Tokyo and Seoul to relax the restrictions.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore has issued an official notification that starting tomorrow, it will perform inspections of Thai aircraft operating to the city-state.

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