The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has awarded Thailand an effective implementation (EI) score of 65.07 percent in its latest safety audit, effectively ranking the country above ICAO’s target of 60 percent, Thai regulators said this week. The audit comes as Thailand seeks to accelerate efforts to address a variety of oversight and other shortcomings in a bid to restore its Category 1 safety rating with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Regaining Category 1 status would allow Thai-registered airlines to launch new routes to the U.S. and participate in codeshare agreements with U.S.-based carriers.
According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT), an ICAO contingent carried out a Coordinated Validation Mission of the country’s civil aviation standards between May 13 and 22. Thailand’s EI score was a result of an aggregate of individuals scores in eight key areas: legislation, organization, personnel licensing, aircraft operations, airworthiness, accident and incident investigations, air navigation services, and aerodrome and ground aids. The audit revealed that Thailand’s EI score had nearly doubled in about four years.
“It took two years and three months for Thailand to lift the red flag, together with the increase of EI from 34.20 to 41.46,” the CAAT said in a statement. “With the additional one year and seven months, the EI score has gone up to 65.07 percent. The existing EI is above the ICAO targeted figure: 60 percent. The audit result also underlines that Thailand has reached the average score of the whole 193 ICAO member countries.”
The latest audit paves the way for Thailand to pursue reinstatement of its Category 1 status with the FAA. In 2015, the FAA downgraded the country’s safety rating to Category 2 after failure to comply with international standards. While ICAO lifted the red flag against Thailand in 2017, allowing Thai carriers to expand their international networks, the FAA downgrade has remained in place.
Although Thai officials expressed optimism that the country can regain Category 1 status, an FAA contingent identified 26 safety issues in February during an International Aviation Safety Assessment technical review. The Thai authorities did not elaborate on the findings but said they have already begun addressing many of the shortcomings.
Even if Thailand successfully regains Category 1 status, the highly competitive U.S.-Southeast Asia market presents its own set of challenges for Thai carriers, given the distance, cost, and weak demand for direct air travel between the two countries. If Thai carriers do initiate service beyond codeshare agreements, they will need to compete against carriers such Philippine Airlines, which offers nonstop flights to five destinations, and Singapore Airlines, which flies nonstop to four U.S. destinations. Garuda Indonesia and Vietnam Airlines have also signaled interest in launching flights to the U.S.