Thailand Breaks Air Safety Agreement with Japan

 - May 6, 2015, 9:26 AM
A Thai Airways Airbus A330-300 lands at Chang Mai International Airport in Thailand. (Photo: Gabriele Stoia)

Thailand’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) has come under fire over failing to update Japanese authorities about safety issues raised in a January audit by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Under a memorandum of understanding signed last month, the DCA agreed to submit regular updates to the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB), outlining its progress in rectifying security concerns raised by the UN agency. In return the JCAB lifted a charter-flight ban on six Thai-registered carriers, including Thai Airways, NokScoot, Asian Air, Jet Asia, Asia Atlantic Airlines and Air Asia X. The agreement allows the airlines to operate charter flights to Japan from April 11 to May 31.

Thailand’s Transport Minister Air Marshal Prajin Juntong said that Japanese authorities had recently contacted the DCA’s director-general Somchai Phiphuttawat over breaking the agreement. In response, Prajin said that a committee is pending to improve communications between the two countries.

In the wake of January’s audit, Thailand’s aviation sector faces a massive shakeup to improve regulatory oversight. While countries in Southeast Asia do not impose flight bans on airlines for failing to uphold ICAO standards, Asian countries, including Japan and South Korea, restrict airlines that fail ICAO audits. In early April, both countries banned several Thai-registered airlines but have since eased restrictions.

The Thai DCA has begun drafting a detailed corrective action plan, which it expects to finalize by May 6. It plans to present the plan to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on May 10 before forwarding it to ICAO and the JCAB. ICAO expects to release the results of its audit of the action plan on its website on June 18.

As part of the new plan, the DCA promises to tighten laws and draft new regulations regarding the issuing of air operating licenses and air operator certificates, as well the transportation of hazardous materials. In February, Thai authorities suspended the licenses of seven cargo airlines for failing to follow aviation safety protocol.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will come to Thailand in mid-July to launch its own inspections of aviation licensing and airport security. Several Thai airports have recently come under scrutiny for failing to properly screen travelers and goods, including six main airports under the public company, Airports of Thailand, and several operated by the DCA. Plans call for a new airport authority to replace the DCA while preparations get under way for a new, separate aviation regulator.

ICAO will conduct a more comprehensive audit of Thailand’s aviation sector in 2016 under the Universal Security Audit Program Continuous Monitoring Approach. Prajin has pledged to address issues in all 41 airlines operating in the county by June and will meet with ICAO delegates to address next year’s audit.