PM orders quick fix of safety standards after FAA downgrade

PM orders quick fix of safety standards after FAA downgrade

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is calling for a quick resolution after the US Federal Aviation Administration downgraded Thailand's safety rating on Tuesday. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is calling for a quick resolution after the US Federal Aviation Administration downgraded Thailand's safety rating on Tuesday. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Wednesday ordered officials to quickly rectify problems with the country’s aviation system after the US Federal Aviation Administration downgraded Thailand safety rating yesterday.

Speaking upon his arrival from Paris at Suvarnabhumi airport this morning, the premier said he had been informed of the FAA's decision to drop Thailand to Category 2 on its international safety-standard benchmark following discussions between the agency and the government that concluded on Oct 28.

He said he had instructed transport authorities to quickly tackle problems that have been left unsolved since international scrutiny of the country's aviation standards began early this year.

The Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization, a division of the United Nations, downgraded Thailand in June after finding a shortage of technical officers and certification problems in transporting hazardous goods. The European Aviation Safety Agency will announce the results of its audit on Dec 15.

Gen Prayut said he accepted the fact that the latest international blow to the country will affect confidence in the government.

"Therefore, all must join hands to bring peace to the country.  Don't try to pick a quarrel, because doing so will not lead us out of crisis," he said.

The FAA on Tuesday night said Thailand's civil-aviation authority no longer met "minimum international standards" and dropped it to Category 2 from 1 for failing to comply with FAA standards. It did not detail the failures, but said the rating meant the Department of Civil Aviation was "deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record-keeping or inspection procedures".

Shares in Thai airlines fell today in response.

Aviation officials said the downgrade automatically prohibits Thai-registered carriers from beginning any routes to the US until the Category I ranking is restored. Thai Airways International, the only carrier to serve the US, ended flights to destinations there Oct 25.

'Impact on sentiment'

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who oversees economic affairs, said on Wednesday that the downgrade happened even after the Department of Civil Aviation separated its roles as operator of regional airports and aviation regulator.

That indicated problems centred on the quality of work by aviation personnel, which must be solved quickly, he said.

He did not see any direct business impact from the downgrade by the US because Thai Airways isn't serving US destinations. But he admitted that it affected confidence in Thai aviation standards.

"There is an impact in terms of sentiment. We do need to meet international standards," he said.

Airline safety regulators around the world often take their cue from FAA safety rulings, which could result in further downgrades or blacklisting that would have a direct impact. South Korea, Japan and China previously stopped Thai-based airlines from flying charters and new routes over safety worries raised in an earlier audit by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Those restrictions have since been relaxed.

Airline shares hit, executives shrug

Shares of national carrier Thai Airways dropped 7.47% by 5pm. Shares of Asia Aviation (AirAsia) dropped 6.01%, Bangkok Airways fell 4.41%, while Airports of Thailand went down 0.62%.

Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways said their businesses would not be affected by the FAA downgrade because they did not fly to the United States.

In a statement its president Charamporn Jotikasthira said it would have "no commercial or customer impact" given Thai Airways International (THAI) had ceased its only US flight, to Los Angeles, in late October.

"THAI confirms its commitment to aviation safety standards, and assures all that THAI operates with the highest international aviation safety standards," the statement added.

Patee Sarasin, chairman of low-cost carrier Nok Airlines, said on Tuesday the FAA decision would hurt the industry's reputation and may lead to other countries limiting flights by Thai operators. Nok shares were flat on Wednesday.

'Quickly find more qualifed personnel'

Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said Wednesday that Thailand lacked qualified staff within the civil aviation authority at a time when the regional airline industry has seen huge expansion, particularly in low-cost carriers.

"We will quickly find more qualified and enough of the right personnel," he said, adding that the country's aviation laws dating back to 1954 "need to be improved".

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