A US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) team concluded its initial audit of air safety in Thailand with three key problem areas identified. Transport Minister ACM Prajin Juntong said the three problems included a shortage of qualified DCA staff to carry out air safety inspections of airlines — a concern which had also been raised by the ICAO; a lack of qualified staff for aircraft being operated in the country and an incomplete aviation manual, which might be due to lack of staffing, according to a report in The Nation. Prajin said the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) would fix all the problems.
But Prajin added that the authorities would not be able to solve all the problems this year because of a shortage of qualified people, but the Thai Cabinet earlier approved a plan to hire more experts, as well as to bring in foreigner experts. A revised safety manual has already been completed.
The minister said the FAA had verbally reported its findings to DCA director-general Parichart Khotcharat and will send its official findings in writing to the DCA within the next 30 days, following which Thailand has 65 days to fix the problems. Prajin said the FAA staff would return to ensure Thailand takes proper action in addressing the regulator’s concerns within the given timeframe.
Once 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 per 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.
The FAA team of four experts also examined national carrier Thai Airways International and Bangkok Airways, one of the largest private airlines.
Meanwhile, the Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) has asked several airport operators to reserve parking spots for aircraft in the event Thai-registered airlines are banned from flying to foreign countries, following the preliminary results from the FAA audit. Thailand has already been red flagged by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) over aviation safety standards and has been given until November to remedy the deficiencies.
The AoT has urged major airport operators – the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) which operates 28 provincial airports, the air force and the navy which oversees U-Tapao airport in Rayong – to reserve parking areas in airport compounds in case foreign countries impose the ban, AoT chairman Nitinai Sirismatthakarn said after the AoT board meeting on Wednesday, according to the Bangkok Post.
Some Thai-registered airlines earlier faced flight restrictions by Japan, South Korea and Indonesia, following the ICAO audit, although none were outright banned.
“We have to reserve areas for parking in preparation for the worst-case scenario in which planes will be banned,” Nitinai said. In such a case, there may be “a large number of planes left on the ground”.