Thai Airlines Won't Be Launching Flights to the US Anytime Soon
Airlines in Thailand will not be launching new flights to the US anytime soon. The nation's Civil Aviation Authority said earlier this month that it did not pass a safety audit from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which all international airlines need to complete before flying into the US or launching codeshares with US airlines.
After inspecting Thailand's aviation authority's oversight and reportedly visiting an airline to gauge maintenance practices and flight operations from Feb. 11 to Feb. 15, the FAA said that 26 regulations did not meet the standards to receive a Category 1 rating -- or the ability to fly into the US. The FAA measures the aviation authority's operations against the International Civil Aviation Organization's safety regulations.
Thailand currently holds a Category 2 rating with the FAA; the nation was downgraded in December 2015 to the second tier because it, "did not meet international standards," the FAA said in a statement at the time. Getting knocked down to Category 2 status meant Thai airlines could keep existing flights to the US in place, but they would be barred from launching any new service.
The ICAO also gave Thailand a "red flag" for its aviation oversight in 2015, but it lifted that warning in 2017. In this FAA audit, it's not exactly clear what the 26 items were that weren't up to standards, or why Thai officials were ill prepared for their inspection.
"Flying into the US is a major benefit for an airline," John Cox, CEO of Safety Operating Systems, told TPG in an email. "They should be prepared for the inspection long before the inspector[s] arrive. That makes it puzzling."
Former FAA officials say that Thailand is already trying to fix the 26 subpar regulations. "Some of the defects found by the FAA were already in the process of being addressed," former FAA deputy administrator Sandy Murdock wrote in a blog post for aviation firm JDA Solutions, citing Thai officials. "The official examination results will be sent to Thai authorities, and another FAA inspection will be requested when all the defects have been fixed."
Murdock pointed out that the safety audits between ICAO and FAA seem to be inconsistent. "Civil aviation authorities are 'audited' by EASA, FAA and ICAO. Ostensibly all use the same basic standards — the ICAO USOAP — and yet, there are frequent variances among these judgments," he wrote.
So, the FAA's latest judgement doesn't necessarily mean all airlines in Thailand are unsafe to fly. When in doubt, a good method for US travelers interested in flying in Thailand would be to check if the ICAO has performed an operational safety audit and registered the individual carrier in its database (dubbed IOSA).
"I would ask if the Thai airlines are IOSA registered," Cox said. "IOSA is a high standard set by the International Air Transport Association. If the answer was yes, then I would fly on them, if not then I would have reservations about it."
Most of the major carriers in Thailand have passed this inspection: Bangkok Airways, Thai Airways, Thai Smile Airways, NokScoot Airlines, Thai AirAsia X and Thai Lion Air are all registered as having the IOSA certification.