US aviation regulator in Thailand to inspect safety standards

The arrivals hall at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok on May 8, 2011.
The arrivals hall at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok on May 8, 2011. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - The United States authorities are in Thailand to inspect progress made in aviation safety standards after it told the country to address shortcomings or face a downgrade, the Transport Minister said on Monday (Oct 26).

The three-day inspection comes after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave the Thai aviation authorities 65 days in July to take corrective measures over what it said were critical omissions in its commercial aviation safety standards.

Thailand faces a downgrade from a category 1 to a category 2 if it does not show improvement.

That could impact the industry's credibility after the United Nations' aviation agency downgraded safety ratings for Thailand's civil aviation body in June.

Carriers could also face a flight ban to the US - although no Thai-registered airline currently operates direct flights to the US.

Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said Thailand had addressed and rectified 35 problem areas identified by the US regulator and a decision over whether to downgrade Thailand will come next month.

"The FAA is here to follow up our progress on six major points and 35 issues they raised," Mr Arkhom told reporters in Bangkok. "I've been told that we have solved them all."

"This is an important issue that we need to solve because it will affect the Thai aviation sector in the long-term," he added, without specifying what action Thailand had taken to improve safety.

In March, South Korea, Japan and China stopped Thailand-based airlines from flying charters and new routes because of safety concerns raised in an international audit. Those restrictions have since been relaxed.

The inspection comes at a time when Thailand's vital tourism sector is making an impressive rebound after anti-government protests in 2014 took a heavy toll on tourism in the capital Bangkok and a bomb attack in August killed 20 people, more than half of them foreigners.

A record 30.3 million tourists are expected to visit this year, the tourism council said last week.

Mr Arkhom said the FAA would give its decision on whether to downgrade Thailand next month.