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'Long-term steps afoot to boost civil aviation'

Apr 03. 2015
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By SUCHAT SRITAMA
THE NATION

A MEMORANDUM of understanding signed this week allowing Thai flights into Japan after an earlier partial ban over safety concerns is only a short-term measure, Transport Minister Prajin Juntong said.

And Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in his weekly television programme, said he would use his special powers under Article 44 of the interim charter to expedite an upgrade of the country’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA).

Japan had imposed restrictions on some Thai-registered carriers after a critical audit of the Kingdom’s system by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). The MoU signed on Thursday between the DCA and the Japanese Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) resulted in a two-month grace period for Thai carriers.

Under the agreement, all flights from Thailand to Japan must be certified by the DCA regarding safety and security, and all charter flights from this country will be investigated by the JCAB upon arrival.

“These are only short-term measures. For the long term, the ministry will revise aviation regulations in order to meet international standards,” Prajin said.

He earlier said the Japanese ban had damaged this country’s image and had negative impacts on the economy, especially the tourism industry. However, the ministry will put full efforts into solving the problem as soon as possible.

Top DCA officials are now in South Korea talking over the issue with high hopes that Seoul will allow Thai airlines to fly into that country unrestricted. The DCA will also meet with Chinese authorities soon while continuing to work with Japan for further cooperation.

Prajin said the Chinese government had not yet imposed restrictions like Japan’s but was also concerned about the critical ICAO audit.

Although the ICAO, a specialised agency of the United Nations, did not downgrade Thailand, it voiced concerns over the country’s safety standards. It urged restructuring of the DCA, hiring of more qualified specialists, increasing civil-aviation budgets and amending relevant laws.

Prayut said on his TV programme yesterday that the government was seeking cooperation from the ICAO, which was keeping a close eye on Thailand.

“I can affirm that our safety standards are still high, but have to admit that new equipment is needed. We have been using the same system for approximately 10 years now without any renovation.

“We will address this problem swiftly and will comply with the ICAO. The current administration is adamant to resolve this issue within 30 days, which is the first phase.

“A new committee will be set up to replace the old one, which consists of 11-12 members. The plan should take approximately 90 days. The ICAO is giving Thailand three months to overhaul the system, but I want it fixed within the next 30 days.

“I have instructed the Civil Aviation Department to add more specialists and will utilize Article 44 in order to make the new system work.

“We will hire experts from foreign countries to help us fix these glitches. Everything must be finished within a month. The next phase, which will run for 90 days, is about establishing a ‘National Institute of Civil Aviation’,” Prayut said.

The ICAO audit gave Thailand’s aviation system the lowest score ever. As a result, the JCAB banned five Thai carriers from adding flights or opening new routes. South Korea made a similar move.

The affected airlines were NokScoot, Thai Airways International, Asia Atlantic, Thai AirAsia X, and Jet Asia.

About 120,000 passengers were expected to travel in and out Japan this month and next.

Germany and Australia are also watching the situation but have made no moves so far to restrict Thai airlines.

Last week the ICAO granted Thailand’s Civil Aviation Training Centre full membership in its Trainair Plus Programme.

The centre had been an associate member of the programme since 1992.

Trainair Plus is aimed at bringing aviation personnel up to international standards.

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