The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) plans to launch a follow-up safety audit of Thailand next week on a number of previously identified safety concerns, according to a source familiar with the project who spoke with AIN on condition of anonymity. The latest audit comes as Thailand seeks to accelerate efforts to address a variety of oversight and other shortcomings in a bid to restore its Category 1 safety rating with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Regaining Category 1 status would allow Thai-registered airlines to launch new routes to the U.S. and participate in codeshare agreements with U.S.-based carriers.
Thailand plans to request a second technical review from the FAA once ICAO submits its findings and Thailand addresses outstanding issues. In June 2015, ICAO flagged the country with a Significant Safety Concern (SSC) label for failing to maintain international standards. Two months later, the FAA downgraded Thailand to Category 2 over similar concerns.
ICAO lifted the red flag against Thailand in 2017, allowing Thai carriers to expand their international networks; however, the FAA downgrade has remained in place. According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT), the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) technical review in February identified 26 safety issues. Since then, the CAAT has accelerated efforts to address regulatory shortcomings.
National carrier Thai Airways had previously indicated a desire to resume U.S. service after suspending its flights from Bangkok to Los Angeles in 2015 following years of losses. Thai Airways is now seeking cabinet approval to acquire 38 new airplanes as part of a major restructuring plan to drive down maintenance costs and return the flag carrier to profitability. Valued at $4.9 million, the procurement plan will occur in two stages, the first of which would involve the purchase or lease of 25 aircraft and the second another 13. The airline plans to use 31 new airplanes to incrementally replace its existing fleet, while it deploys the remaining seven on new routes. Current plans call for a mix of widebody and narrowbody models. Airline president Sumeth Damrongchaitham said on Tuesday that the Thai Cabinet will rule on the matter before the end of May.
In a separate development, Thai Airways expects to finalize details of a joint venture (JV) agreement with Airbus this month to provide maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) services at U-Tapao Airport, near the country’s eastern seaboard. The two parties signed agreements in 2017; however, plans stalled after Airbus raised concerns as to whether the ownership structure of the project satisfies criteria under a public-private partnership (PPP) scheme.
Thailand expects to put forth a proposal whereby the country’s Eastern Economic Corridor Office could act as project owner of the MRO with Airbus and Thai Airways as joint investors.