The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has given Thailand 65 days to address shortcomings found in its aviation safety standards, Transport Minister Prajin Juntong said on Friday.
Thai-registered carriers will face a ban on launching flight services to the US if the flaws cannot be fixed within the deadline, he said.
ACM Prajin revealed the findings after the US aviation regulator wrapped up its five-day inspection of the country's aviation safety standards.
He said FAA officials had assessed the operations of the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) from Monday to yesterday.
They also inspected Thai Airways International and Bangkok Airways.
The FAA inspection comes after the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) red-flagged Thailand on June 18 following the DCA's failure to meet a 90-day deadline to correct shortcomings the ICAO had identified earlier.
The minister said the FAA had verbally reported its findings to DCA director-general Parichart Khotcharat.
It will then send its official findings in writing to the DCA within the next 30 days, he said.
Among the flaws identified in the FAA's audit was a shortage of qualified DCA staff to carry out air safety inspections of airlines — a concern which had also been raised by the ICAO.
Some of the DCA's inspection methods are not up-to-date, and it has not carried out enough follow-ups on the progress of its work due to staff shortages, the auditors said.
ACM Prajin said the FAA staff would return to ensure Thailand takes proper action in addressing the regulator's concerns within the given timeframe.
After the deadline expires, the FAA will conclude its final audit within the next 30 days and then it will give official ratings on the country's aviation safety standards.
If the DCA meets its standards, the FAA will give it a Category 1 rating, which means Thai-registered carriers can initiate or continue services to the US as normal.
But if the department fails to meet the requirements, it will be given a Category 2 rating.
This would mean that Thai carriers cannot launch new services to the US and will be restricted to flying existing services while Thailand enforces corrective actions.
ACM Prajin said the DCA will step up efforts to correct the flaws and keep the FAA regularly informed of its actions.
With its determined efforts to address the problems, Thailand did not deserve to be downgraded, ACM Prajin said.
However, if it is given a Category 2 rating, it would only affect Thai-registered flights to the US, he added.
He said other countries have different aviation safety standards and it was up to them whether to follow the US.
The minister said the government is also taking action to ease the so-called significant safety concerns raised by the ICAO.
The shortcomings identified by the ICAO during an audit of the DCA earlier this year centred on the department's failures to meet aviation safety standards in regards to regulating aviation businesses and granting air operator certificates.
There was also a lack of sufficient oversight to ensure the effective implementation of ICAO standards, the organisation said after its audit.
Regarding the DCA staff shortages, ACM Prajin said the department was recruiting new staff to carry out inspections and certification of airlines.
They need time to receive training before they can start work, he added.
ACM Prajin also said that work on two manuals, the Flight Operating Inspector Manual and Air Operating Certification Requirement, was now complete.
Staff will receive training on the safety manuals to carry out inspections and certifications of 28 new airlines that provide international flight services.
The minister said Thai Airways has already come up with a solution if the outcome of the FAA's final audit is unfavourable to Thailand.
The airline plans to transfer its customers to airlines who are fellow members of the Star Alliance.
As for a plan to carry out certification of new airlines, ACM Prajin said the plan had been postponed several times due to staff shortages, and a lack of safety manuals.
But now the manuals were ready, and staff were being trained, he said.
However a suitable date for the certification had not yet been fixed as the DCA had to wait for the ICAO experts to visit, he said.
"We don't know when the ICAO staff are ready so we cannot fix the date, but the certification may not be completed by this year. It may have to begin next year," ACM Prajin said.