FAA downgrades Thailand to category 2 – what does that say about safety?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the US announced that Thailand does not comply with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety standards and has been downgraded to category 2. What does that mean to flying to Thailand or on a Thai airline – read onto find out!

SuvarnabhumiThe short answer is that Thailand’s civil aviation agency is not doing it’s job of overseeing the airlines in the country properly. It doesn’t say anything about the airlines or airports in the country per se and it’s as safe to fly Thai Airways or Bangkok Airways or visiting Thailand as it was the day before the announcement, so I wouldn’t rush to cancel my travel plans or Thai Airways tickets. The practical implications are a limit for Thai airlines to start or change service to the US. Because there currently are no flights by Thai carriers to the US, there is no immediate change. There is a good chance that the European aviation authorities will come to the same conclusion and either limit or ban flights by Thai carriers to the continent, which would be a bigger impact on travelers. And it also has implications on airline safety in the long run, keep reading to learn more about it!

First of all, this is an evaluation of the Thai government body overseeing aviation (the DCA, an equivalent to the FAA), not any airline or airport. The Category 2 International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) rating means that the country either lacks laws or regulations necessary to oversee air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards, or its civil aviation authority is deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record-keeping, or inspection procedures. Other countries with a category 2 rating are Indonesia, Bangladesh or Ghana – it’s a short list and certainly not something to ignore! You can get the full list of all FAA country ratings here!
ThaiAirways PlanesWhile the FAA doesn’t specify the issues, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO, a United Nations agency) raised operational concerns in their country assessment, including the lack of officers to issue certificates and perform oversight of local airlines and the handling of hazardous materials. The number of people flying in and out of Thailand has almost doubled in the last five years and the local airlines are growing fast, especially budget carriers. That has left the Thai aviation authority short-staffed and strapped to oversee the carriers properly. While these issues were identified earlier this year, the Thai government missed the deadlines to fix them, resulting in the ICAO report and subsequent downgrade by the FAA.
The European aviation authority is expected to issue their assessment (based on the same facts) soon. While they often come to similar conclusions to the FAA, the outcome does not have to be the same. For example, Indonesia is still rated a category 2 country, but Europe has lifted the ban on some Indonesian airlines including flag carrier Garuda to fly to Europe based on some improvement in the sector.

NokAir PlaneYou can read on some blogs comments about Thai Airways, but this has really nothing directly to do with them or other local airlines. Airlines volunteer to undergo their own safety assessments, the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA). Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways have both completed their audit successfully and meet the safety standards. Others, like budget carriers Nok Air or Thai AirAsia have not. So, while I’ll personally continue to fly Thai Airways or AirAsia, it is concerning when neither individual nor country audits are passed! Also, there is a risk that the airline standards could slip in the long run, if the government doesn’t provide proper oversight AND the airlines feel they can get away with it! You can find the safety ratings of all airlines and whether they have taken and passed the IOSA audit at AirlineRatings!

Other public comments declare Asia in general to have lower safety standards or be more risky to fly, but that isn’t really borne out by the facts: The ICAO 2015 Safety Report keeps track of aviation accidents globally. Despite the tragic, widely reported accidents in Asia in 2014, Asia has less than half of the accident rate than the Americas and less than Europe as well:
ICAO Regional Accident Statistic 2014

You can get the full ICAO 2015 Safety Report here!

And the doom sayers that rather stay home than flying or advocating a road trip instead, should really read up on the statistics: Flying is till safer than any other mode of transportation, and by a long shot:
Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 3.23.33 PMYou can read my top tips to travel safely here!

My recommendation is to not overreact and cancel any travel plans out of fear! But do carefully choose your airline when buying tickets and consider safety and comfort and not only pick the cheapest ticket at the top of the search box! Not all airlines are the same and you should make an informed decision before getting on board. You will continue to get all the facts & figures about airlines, including their safety rating, on this blog. You can find an overview of all the airlines I have reviewed here! Travel safely!

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