AFP: Thai authorities yesterday said they would use special powers under junta rule to “urgently” improve airline safety as several carriers face bans on new international flights, following concerns raised by a UN aviation agency.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a United Nations body, recently reported “significant safety concerns” to Thailand’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) after an audit earlier in the year.
In response, Japan last week blocked new flights from Thailand in a move affecting charter services by budget carriers Thai AirAsia X and NokScoot as well as Asia Atlantic Airlines, said the DCA, adding existing flights would not be impacted.
Flag carrier Thai Airways has also been hit. However, according to a statement on its Facebook page on Saturday (Mar 28), two charter flights scheduled for Japan in April had been affected.
At a press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha told reporters he would use Section 44 of the interim constitution to expedite safety improvements. It was imposed after he seized power from an elected government last May, giving him absolute powers over legislative, executive and judicial decisions.
“We have to accept that we are losing revenue from this, I am serious about solving the problem,” he said.
In what appears to be a growing fallout of the ICAO decision a transport ministry official, Deputy Permanent Secretary Voradej Harnprasert, told reporters that airlines including Thai Airways and Nok Air may also face a potential ban on new flights from Seoul and Beijing. It was not immediately possible to confirm these bans.
Prayut also said that he had raised the aviation safety issue with the Japanese prime minister and the South Korean president on the sidelines of the funeral of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew on Sunday.
All THAI AIRLINES HAVE BEEN IMPACTED
After ICAO released its audit outcome, all Thai airlines have felt the impact, according to a Scoot spokesperson.
“All Thai airlines have been impacted by the outcome of ICAO’s recent audit of the Thai Department of Civil Aviation. Amongst the operations most affected have been charter flights that, as a consequence of ICAO’s finding, Japan and Korea have declined to approve,” he told Channel NewsAsia.
“NokScoot, like many Thai airlines, had committed to operating such charters and is now finding alternatives for booked guests. Most of the flights committed by NokScoot are now being operated by Scoot, using Scoot’s aircraft and crews.”
“Scoot’s existing operations are unaffected by the assistance being rendered to NokScoot’s passengers. Both Nok and Scoot remain committed to the NokScoot joint venture, and are confident that the Thai DCA will ultimately be able to resolve ICAO’s concerns.”
The UN body has flagged several safety concerns including Thai aviation department personnel failing to meet international standards and a lack of full aviation regulations, Transport Minister Prajin Juntong told the press conference. The ICAO headquarters in Montreal could not immediately be reached for further details on the points it has raised.
Thai authorities have set up two new committees to tackle the concerns and will send teams to South Korea, China, Australia and Germany to discuss the issues following a trip to Japan late last week, Prajin added.
Earlier in the day the minister had said Thailand was warned about its aviation management after an earlier ICAO audit in 2005. “(They) asked us to improve our systems. I understand we have to improve urgently.”
In its statement released last Thursday the DCA had said it would provide new training for staff and increase airline inspections as part of its overhaul. Section 44 has been under the spotlight in Thailand in recent days after Prayut on Friday said he was considering lifting martial law, imposed two days before May’s coup, and replacing it with an order under this controversial portion of the interim charter.
Several local rights groups have urged the junta chief to rethink the plans, issuing a joint statement maintaining their call to lift martial law but saying the impact of invoking the new order would be “much worse”.
Under martial law Thailand’s generals have banned political gatherings of more than five people, outlawed criticism of the ruling regime and tried civilians in military courts.