Thailand aviation took a hit this week, though nowhere close to a fatal blow. The FAA concluded a periodic review of the country’s civil aviation authority and determined “that the Kingdom of Thailand does not comply with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety standards.” This announcement is accompanied by a downgrade in the nation’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) rating to Category 2.
Just in: FAA downgrades safety rating for Thailand pic.twitter.com/0Bp8Gueu4z
— Ethan Klapper (@ethanklapper) December 1, 2015
The downgrade mostly affects the ability of airlines based in Thailand to establish new service to the USA. While there is roughly zero chance of such service being started any time soon to the mainland (Thai Airways cut its service to Los Angeles via Seoul a while back) there were rumblings earlier this year of service between Bangkok and Honolulu launching soon.
The DMK-HNL NokScoot would be a 777 non-stop and @Patee122 hopes @HawaiianAir will interline/feed traffic. #Boyd15LAS #AvGeek #PaxEx
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) September 1, 2015
The FAA will not grant route authorities for those flights with the current Category 2 rating. And there is a bit more to the way the ratings work. The rules also preclude new codeshare routes from being designated when a country is at a Category 2 rating.
Arguably the codeshare issue is more important, particularly for Star Alliance partners United Airlines and Thai Airways. United dropped its own metal service to Bangkok but currently operates zero codeshare flights with Thai Airways. United has leveraged the flights of joint venture partner ANA rather than Thai Airways for connecting passengers onward from Tokyo. And for passengers connecting via Hong Kong most United itineraries sell with Cathay Pacific or Hong Kong Airlines to complete the journey.
Thai Airways has even gone so far as to issue a statement with something of an Alfred E. Newman tone.
So, no codeshare flights are likely to be affected and maybe one direct route to be impacted in the near future. And it was probably a marginal one to begin with. Still, this is an unfortunate development in the overall world of aviation regulatory oversight. Even if it is politically motivated (which mostly seems unlikely) calling the safety of an aviation body into question is rarely good for business overall.
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I think a similar decision from European aviation authorities would have a bigger impact, as Thai Airways is currently serving 11 destinations there!
While FAA doesn’t give reasons, the ICAO audit earlier this year noted lack of staff to issue certificates and provide oversight. Despite the warning, the authorities dragged their feet and missed the deadline to fix it. Now, the good general is getting involved and I’d expect this to get addressed soon. Mexico got their cat 1 rating back in 4 months, while the Philippines needed 5 years – let’s hope Thailand follows the former and not the latter example!
I researched some more details here:
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