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FAA Downgrade Puts Pressure on Thailand’s Aviation Industry

  • Ron Corben
  • VOA News

A Thai Airways plane prepares to land at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand, Dec. 2, 2015.

A Thai Airways plane prepares to land at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand, Dec. 2, 2015.

Some social activists criticize Hanoi for not doing enough to protect its fishermen, who have been caught up in escalating disputes over the South China Sea.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has downgraded Thailand’s safety ratings, a move in line with other international audits. The move has implications for the country’s important tourism industry.

Thai Prime Minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha Wednesday moved quickly to press Thai aviation officials to overcome safety concerns and standards after the FAA downgrade of the country’s safety ratings.

The U.S. decision follows that of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) concerns over aviation safety in a report in March.

The FAA lowered Thailand’s rating to a “category 2” –meaning that its civil aviation authority was deficient in one or more critical areas, or that the country was lacking legal or regulatory oversight of airlines in keeping with international standards. The move blocks airlines from expanding routes to the United States.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha addresses world leaders at the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, Nov. 30, 2015.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha addresses world leaders at the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, Nov. 30, 2015.

Brendan Sobie, the Singapore-based chief analyst with the Center for Aviation, said the U.S. decision echoes concerns voiced by others. “They have already had this issue for the last several months with the ICAO and then the restrictions imposed by Japan and Korea which has had a real impact on the startup [carriers] Nok, Scoot and Thai Air Asia, in particular as well as some other charter carriers in Thailand,” he said.

South Korea, Japan and China had earlier stopped Thai-based airlines from flying charters and new routes after the United Nations ICAO report over safety concerns. Some restrictions are reported to have been eased.

While Thailand’s national carrier, Thai Airways International, said the FAA decision would have no immediate impact, analysts say there are concerns about its broader effect on Thailand’s critical tourism industry.

In an interview with VOA earlier this year, Thai Airways President, Charamporn Jotikasthira, said because his airline no longer flies directly to the United States, he is more concerned with the assessment by European aviation authorities. A critical report by the European authorities would affect Thai flights to all European destinations.

The European Aviation Safety Agency’s results of its audit are due on December 15.

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