Peaceful skies reign again

Peaceful skies reign again

ACM Treetod Sonjance, Air Force commander (left) and Chula Sukmanop, director of the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT): Working more effectively.
ACM Treetod Sonjance, Air Force commander (left) and Chula Sukmanop, director of the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT): Working more effectively.

RTAF head ACM Treetod Sonjance and CAAT director Chula Sukmanop have cleared their past differences as they tackle aviation safety, after the CAAT initially resisted having the RTAF involved in its work at all.

ACM TREETOD SONJANCE, AIR FORCE CHIEF

I believe cooperation will improve after the discussion with Mr Chula about our past problems. The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) is the key mechanism for tackling aviation problems while the Command Centre for Resolving Civil Aviation Issues, which I chair, plays an assisting role. The air force, meanwhile, stands ready to offer help and foster work coordination.

As soon as the command centre was formed in September last year, it was faced with an urgent task as the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was scheduled to conduct its second audit in October. However, the FAA eventually downgraded Thailand's aviation safety standard status in December.

At that time, the command centre tried to collect all the necessary information from the the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), the organisation which has since been remodeled as the CAAT, but did not get a proper response. 

It was later found that the DCA inspectors' qualifications did not meet ICAO standards and that was the reason the country's aviation safety status was downgraded.

To remove the red flag tag, there must be specific inspectors who can examine each type of aircraft registered in the country. They must be properly qualified in line with ICAO's standards before being trained to become licensed inspectors.

No one at the DCA met the criteria, so 17 staff members from Thai Airways International, Nok Air and the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) have been called in to work as inspectors with the CAAT. After being trained, the 17 officers will play a key role in the reissuing of Air Operator Certificates (Re-AOCs) for 28 airlines, giving international flights priority. And I am confident these 17 officers are ready for the crucial task.

The issue of concern is to appoint staff in line with the CAAT's structure, where capable personnel must be positioned to avoid repeating the same situation as the DCA.

There are few qualified personnel to pick from the DCA staff and some of them have been allegedly involved with irregularities in the organisation and fear a loss of power. These are deep-rooted, chronic problems in the organisation which have led to the country's aviation trouble.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is due to conduct the audit again in June and it is believed the agency will see the work Thai authorities have done.

Meanwhile, cooperation with the ICAO has also been elevated after the CAAT and the RTAF sent their staff to seek consultation from the ICAO office in Thailand. To weed out corruption, there must be a clear time frame for when the AOCs can be reissued and authorities must work under strict guidelines.

CHULA SUKMANOP, CAAT DIRECTOR

After taking up the leadership role at the CAAT in October, I was shocked with the problems there such as inadequate cooperation from staff and the complicated steps needed to obtain information. The organisation was also under pressure from the RTAF and the command centre.

Since January, the CAAT started to make changes and work more effectively in line with the centre's directives.

The CAAT subsequently agreed with the command centre that the qualification criteria for inspectors must be made clear first, a necessary step in complying with ICAO standards.

Therefore, the CAAT brought a halt to the plan to bring on new inspectors pending the selection of qualified individuals to undergo training. If unqualified applicants enter the process, the current problems will persist.

Only 17 out of more than 80 individuals met the qualifications to conduct inspections. The rest could be asked to deal with document examination or act as assistants to the inspectors.

CAA International (CAAi), a globally recognised aviation consultancy and a wholly-owned subsidiary of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, will send personnel to assist in the process. The CAAi has the proper licences to deal with inspections.

Current or former pilots, whose qualifications fall in line with the ICAO, could also be appointed to undergo training to become inspectors to examine certain aircraft and helicopters.

Regarding the transport of dangerous goods (DG), one of the problems underlined by the ICAO, progress has been made by issuing rules, training staff, organisational restructuring, and the creation of manuals on dangerous goods and the inspectors examining them.

Two officers are now ready to address the problem and a process is underway to hire a former Lufthansa employee to manage the work. The person, who has direct experience in conducting DG training, will be contracted for two years.

Work is underway to create guidelines that state audit criteria and steps, called "Air Operator Certificate Requirements", to deal with Re-AOCs.

Twenty-eight airlines operating international routes are subject to Re-AOCs, those who fail to meet the criteria will be forced to only operate domestic flights.

Efforts will be made to train 514 staff members according to the CAAT structure. A total of 197 DCA employees were selected to work with the CAAT and the rest will be sought through a candidate search set to begin in April. The CAAT has updated its corrective action plan and brought it in line with the ICAO, which has approved 80% of it.


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