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Thailand is a popular destination for both its big cities and small towns. However, flying to the Southeast Asian country on one of its airlines might become more difficult in the near future. The FAA announced this week that it lowered the country’s aviation safety rating to Category 2, meaning it lacks either laws or regulations necessary to oversee air carriers in line with international aviation standards. The country previously held a Category 1 rating, meaning it was compliant with international aviation standards.

What does this mean if you’re planning to travel to Thailand in the future? Well, the country’s airlines can continue operating existing routes to the US, but they won’t be allowed to add new routes or expand existing routes until the rating is upgraded to Category 1. However, no airlines from the country currently have direct flights to the US, so Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways have said their businesses would not be affected by the downgrade.

Thailand's beaches might be more difficult to get to. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Thailand’s beautiful beaches might become more difficult to reach. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

According to CNN, in response to the FAA’s downgrade, Thailand’s prime minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, ordered officials to overhaul the country’s aviation safety standards. Although the FAA release did not specify exactly what led to the downgrade, it did state that Thailand’s Department of Civil Aviation was “deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record-keeping or inspection procedures.”

What else does it mean? Well, usually FAA regulations are followed by similar actions from other global aviation authorities. The results of the European Aviation Safety Agency’s audits are due on December 15, so we’ll know then whether Thailand’s safety ratings have dropped in the EASA’s eyes or if the country’s airlines will continue to operate throughout Europe. If Thailand’s rating were to be downgraded by the EASA, that should raise concerns for the Thai carriers that have direct flights to Europe, as well as the government, as tourism (a huge industry in Thailand) would most likely decrease.

Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK). Image courtesy of Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK). Image courtesy of Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Currently, Thai Airways, Thailand’s leading international carrier, has flights to the following European cities: Brussels (BRU), Copenhagen (CPH), London (LHR), Paris (CDG), Frankfurt (FRA), Madrid (MAD), Munich (MUC), Milan (MXP), Stockholm (ARN), Zurich (ZRH), Oslo (OSL) and Rome (FCO). The airline issued a statement defending its safety record after learning of the FAA’s downgrade.

Ultimately, the downgrade won’t have much of an impact on travelers flying to/from the US, as no Thai airline has a direct route to the States anyway. Routes between the two countries will continue as normal on non-Thai-operated carriers. However, after an FAA downgrade, an EASA downgrade could follow suit, which could cause some larger issues for travelers. When Thailand upgrades its aviation safety rating to FAA’s Category 1, the restrictions will be lifted, and travel – and the option to launch new routes to the US – will resume as normal for Thai-operated carriers.

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