Red flag could soon go

An official monitors air traffic at Suvarnabhumi. Aviation authorities are hopeful of Thailand jettisoning its red flag. PATIPAT JANTHONG

Positive signs have emerged of Thailand being removed from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) list of “red flag” states with significant safety concerns (SSC).

Senior officials of the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) appeared hopeful as the UN’s aviation watchdog team wrapped up its field audit on Wednesday.

The ICAO team, which started its work on Sept 20, declined to speak about the result of the audit until further evaluation at ICAO’s Montreal head office is completed.

The team told the CAAT that the official result would be made known in mid-October and posted on ICAO’s website.

“We sensed some positive response from the ICAO team,” a senior CAAT official, who asked not to be named, told the Bangkok Post.

Thai aviation executives who dealt with the ICAO team echoed the CAAT’s reaction.

The ICAO team was quoted as saying it saw “improvement” in the CAAT’s aviation safety oversight compared with what was seen in 2015.

In 2015, ICAO found 572 flaws in its examination of the CAAT’s safety standards, with 33 classified as significant enough to warrant a red flag in June of that year.

Subsequently, the US Federal Aviation Administration downgraded Thailand to Category II status.

ICAO has said that SSC status does not necessarily indicate a particular safety deficiency in air navigation service providers, airlines, aircraft or aerodromes.

SSC indicates that the state is not providing sufficient safety oversight to ensure effective implementation of applicable ICAO standards.

Thailand is one of only six countries still red-flagged by ICAO, downgrading Thailand to the same par as countries with less progressive aviation industries: Djibouti, Eritrea, Haiti, Kyrgyzstan and Malawi.

A total of 185 countries around the world have been audited by ICAO.

Thai-registered airlines have taken the brunt of the red flag penalty, which restricts them from expanding international flights.

A crucial part of lifting the red flag is the CAAT’s ability to recertify the air operator certificates (AOCs) of 10 Thai-registered carriers in strict compliance with ICAO rules.

These entities, including Thai Airways International, Thai AirAsia and Thai Lion Air, are responsible for the vast majority of international passenger traffic carried by all Thai-registered airlines.

Eleven other operators are awaiting AOC recertification, and until then they are barred from flying overseas.

Among those waiting are air cargo operator K-Mile Thailand; Asia Atlantic, a joint venture of Japanese travel agent HIS and Thai hotelier Baiyoke Group; and China-focused Orient Thai.

There were still 500 “insignificant flaws” found during the latest ICAO audit, but these were unlikely to obstruct the removal of the red flag, CAAT officials said.

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