The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced that the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) does not meet international safety standards as defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). They downgraded Malaysia to Category 2, which means Malaysian airlines like Malaysia Airlines, Air Asia or Malindo are banned from launching new flights to the US. Because international aviation authorities work closely together, Europe or others could follow with this ban.
What does that mean? The FAA routinely audits the equivalent organizations in other countries to ensure global air travel follows the internationally agreed standards. All countries meeting international standards are rated as Category 1.
According to the FAA: “A Category 2 International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) rating means that CAAM – 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, and/or inspection procedures.”
It does NOT mean that Malaysian carriers are not safe, but that the authorities monitoring them appropriately. As a consequence, safety issues with the country’s airlines may not be detected and corrected. Airlines might be just as safe as others, but they might not follow correct safety protocols and we wouldn’t know!
A category 2 rating is very rare – currently only 5 other countries have a category 2 rating: Thailand, Bangladesh, Ghana, Costa Rica and Curacao.
What is the impact on travelers? At this point, there is little impact on US travelers. as only AirAsiaX is serving one route from Kuala Lumpur via Osaka to Honolulu. They were planning to expand to other airports on the West Coast of the US in coming years – but won’t be able to do so until Malaysia re-earns its category 1 rating.
If you are considering to travel on Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia, Malindo (owned by Lion Air) or other Malaysian carriers, you might want to consider safety as one criterium in your purchase decision. All of them also had safety issues at the airline level in the past, in addition to the country assessment.
If you are planning a domestic trip in Malaysia, you only alternative will be a bus or ferry – which is less safe than air transport. I would stick with flights, regardless of this new rating.
On international flights you might have a choice of other airlines. While I’d consider the safety difference between airlines to be generally small, we all have to assess individually what a little bit of extra safety margin is worth to us. If airlines with spotless safety records, like Singapore Airlines (SQ), Jetstar or Scoot, are just a little more expensive, I personally would choose them instead.
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