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UN aviation agency downgrades safety ratings of Thai body

[BANGKOK] Thailand's civil aviation body is under scrutiny after the United Nations' aviation agency on Thursday downgraded its safety ratings for failing to properly oversee airlines under its jurisdiction, the Department of Civil Aviation said.

On its website, the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) listed Thailand with a red flag, which means it has been downgraded to Category 2 from Category 1.

This was because the Thai civil aviation authority's safety standards were "below the standards set", said a senior Thai Department of Civil Aviation official, who declined to be named, because of the sensitivity of the subject.

"The red flag was given today by the DCA, which means we have a problem with safety, in terms of aviation safety. It is below the standards set," said the official.

The downgrade could create a ripple effect and prompt global aviation agencies to reevaluate the safety of Thai aviation facilities, the Economic Intelligence Center at Thailand's Siam Commercial Bank said in a note this month.

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Japan and South Korea stopped Thailand-based airlines from flying charters and new routes because of safety concerns raised in late March, during an audit of the DCA by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

NokScoot, a joint venture between Nok Airlines PCL and a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines Ltd, and Thai AirAsia X were among Thailand's new crop of low-cost carriers hit by the flight bans imposed in March.

Southeast Asian countries, however, do not have policies restricting the growth of airlines licensed by downgraded bodies, and short-haul routes are likely to face minimal impact.

In April, Japan's civil aviation agency agreed to temporarily lift a ban preventing Thailand-registered airlines from operating charter flights to Japan.

An audit by the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Authority, a division of the United Nations, in January found that Thailand's aviation authority had a shortage of technical officers and issues with certification for the transportation of hazardous goods.

In a statement, flag carrier Thai Airways said it followed the highest safety standards in all operational areas and despite the red flag, its safety practices conformed to standards set by international aviation agencies.

Thailand has struggled for almost a decade to meet ICAO standards, Thailand's transport minister said in April. This month, the country's cabinet removed the civil aviation chief over the slow pace of improvement in aviation standards.


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