BANGKOK: Thailand’s junta chief Wednesday said problems with the kingdom’s airline industry must be solved after the United States downgraded the country’s air safety rating in an embarrassing blow to the tourist-reliant nation.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced the move in a statement late Tuesday saying Thailand’s civil aviation authority no longer met “minimum international standards,” a decision that could hamper the operation of Thai airlines worldwide.
The ruling is a setback to the junta government of former army chief turned Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who has previously blamed successive civilian administrations for failing to tackle safety concerns.
“The prime minister has ordered all agencies to seriously work on this issue as this is an important mission for the nation that needs to be successfully solved,” government spokesman Major General Sansern Kaewkamnerd told reporters on Wednesday.
Thailand is a major regional air transport hub while tourism — one of the few bright spots on an otherwise flagging economy — accounts for roughly 10 percent of GDP.
The FAA’s downgrade comes after the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) reported “significant safety concerns” within Thailand’s aviation sector in March.
The FAA conducted an audit earlier this year and gave Thailand 65 days to make improvements in areas of concern but the deadline was not met.
The FAA downgrade means no new Thai airline routes will be opened to the United States while American airlines will not be able to begin new code shares with their Thai counterparts.
That will have little direct effect immediately as no Thai airline currently flies non-stop to the United States.
However, other airline safety regulators, such as those in the European Union, often take their cue from FAA safety rulings, which could result in further downgrades or blacklisting .
The FAA statement did not specify why Thailand had been downgraded but said the move comes when there are “one or more” deficiencies with a country’s civil aviation authority in areas such as “technical expertise, trained personnel, record-keeping, or inspection procedures.”
Thailand, once a shining beacon of economic progress in Southeast Asia, is currently facing something of a compliance crisis.
The EU is mulling whether to blacklist its vital fishing sector after years of failing to crack down on illegal practices, including the use of human trafficking victims and unregistered vessels.
The kingdom has also been put in the bottom category of Washington’s annual list of countries that have failed to crack down on human trafficking.