Even a sophisticated news source like Yahoo!Travel cannot correctly read a simple press release from the FAA. The government public affairs office carefully crafted a statement which announced that “the Kingdom of Thailand does not comply with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety standards and has been assigned a Category 2 rating based on a reassessment of the country’s civil aviation authority.” From that precise statement, the author’s headline erroneously concludes that the airlines, subject to the jurisdiction of the Thai Department of Civil Aviation, “don’t meet safety standards.”
That’s an inappropriate extrapolation of the official statement. Yes, at least one carrier, Thai Airways is 51% owned by the Thai Ministry of Finance, but technically the carrier is a public company and a separate entity from the Kingdom.
Technically, the FAA determined that the DCA, as a governmental body, “lacks laws or regulations necessary to oversee air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards, or its civil aviation authority – a body equivalent to the FAA for aviation safety matters – is deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record-keeping, or inspection procedures.” There is NO allegation that Thai Airways or any other carrier is not safe.
If the Yahoo!Travel was correct and if the FAA had determined that any foreign airline was so deficient, the airline would have had its right to fly to the US terminated or suspended. If “safety in air commerce and the public interest require” the suspension or termination of its authority under 14 CFR §129.11(b), then the Administrator may have terminated any or all Thai carriers which failed to meet those standards. Wrong headline, Yahoo!Travel.
In addition to this sovereign-to sovereign review, there is a practical more real time assessment of foreign airlines. For example, Thai is a Member of the Star Alliance, a consortium of global carriers. That group and the other airline cooperative groups, tend to monitor each other. It is highly unlikely that, for example, United Airlines, would book a US passenger on Thai, if there was any evidence that its affiliate was not meeting strict safety standards. In fact, the FAA Deputy Administrator, Mark Whittaker, was United’s representative to the Star Alliance before joining the Obama Administration. That is a point of reassurance and something Yahoo!Travel failed to mention.
It has been reported that the EU may follow suit, but again the action would be directed to the Kingdom of Thailand, not the carriers. Other CAAs may take similar actions. Perhaps most importantly, the Kingdom of Thailand has heard the FAA’s message and is already responding appropriately with a goal of bringing the DCA up to international standards by next summer. “Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he was informed of the FAA downgrade in advance, adding that Thai authorities are working hard to solve the problems and meet international safety standards.”
A basic tenet of all international aviation regulation is that the airline has a deep and inherent obligation to seek to exceed the minimum safety standards. The existence of the FAA or the CAAs is intended to reinforce, but not replace that duty of each airline. Yes, it is both unfortunate and embarrassing for the Thai Department of Civil Aviation to have been found not to meet international standards. That determination does not mean that any of the Thai carriers were also deficient in their safety compliance.
Yahoo!Travel should know better. Criticism of the Kingdom of Thailand’s Department of Civil Aviation is appropriate; casting of aspersions of the carriers of that country is neither factually nor legally justified.