US FAA downgrades Thailand to Category 2

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which also recently audited Thailand's aviation system, will release the results of its investigation on 10 December, but typically follows similarly with assessments made by the FAA.

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The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has downgraded its safety rating of Thailand’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) from a ‘Category 1’ to a ‘Category 2’ rating, following earlier findings by the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and its own recent assessment.

The FAA said its downgrade meant that Thailand either lacked the laws or regulations necessary to oversee air carriers in line with minimum international standards – or that it was deficient in one or more areas. The US regulator said those areas could include technical expertise, trained personnel, record-keeping, or inspection procedures.

“A reassessment in July 2015 found that Thailand did not meet international standards,” the US regulation agency said a statement posted on its website on Tuesday. “Today’s announcement follows ongoing discussions with the government of Thailand which concluded on Oct 28,” it added. The decision means Thai carriers could also be subjected to service curtailments or outright bans not only in other jurisdictions such as Europe and Asia.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which also recently audited Thailand’s aviation system, will release the results of its investigation on 10 December, but typically follows similarly with assessments made by the FAA. Should the EASA reach similar conclusions it would affect the ability of state-controlled Thai Airways International to add flights to the 11 European destinations it currently serves.

Thai Airways president Charamporn Jotikasthira told local media he wasn’t ready to disclose what the airline would do in the event that the European agency also downgrades Thailand, but said revenue generated from European destinations accounts for a third of the airline’s total.

Thailand had been rated on Category 1 since 1997 which allowed Thai-registered carriers to fly to the US and launch new services. “With a Category 2 rating, Thailand’s carriers can continue existing service to the United States. They will not be allowed to establish new service to the United States,” the FAA said.

In June, Montreal-based ICAO ‘red flagged’ Thailand’s aviation body for failing to solve problems it had identified in March. Other countries red flagged by ICAO include Lebanon, Haiti and Botswana, among several others.

Thai Airways said it would experience no commercial or customer impact following the FAA’s findings as it had stopped its operations to Los Angeles – its only US destination – on 25 October. The carrier has cut several other international routes this year as it continues cost cutting and rationalisation as part of a government-imposed restructuring in an attempt to return the carrier to profitability. But the safety downgrade would affect Thai carriers working as the main operator with a US airline under a code-share agreement, as Thai Airways does in some cases.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand’s former army chief who led n a military coup last year, told reporters he had ordered aviation authorities to quickly address the FAA’s concerns. “We must accept that our standards do not meet the conditions,” General Prayuth said. “We all must help while I will try to restore peace and order in the country.”

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