Thailand is at risk of an aviation safety downgrade by ICAO and is taking urgent action under martial law powers to avoid the damaging commercial consequences that would follow such a decision.
It’s a story that ought to be of concern to Australian international carriers, given factors that could also cause a similar outcome because of the scandals and failures associated with CASA and the ATSB in recent years, and the inability of regulatory reform programs to meet declared targets under successive Labor and Coalition governments.
Most of the world’s aviation sectors, including those of Thailand and Australia, are rated as Level 1 states when it comes to having comprehensive, properly functioning and resourced air safety regimens.
But the dog’s breakfast of the Pel-Air scandal, where the regulatory shortcomings were actively suppressed and denied, and then saw an ATSB accident report failed in critical parts by a peer review by its Canadian counterpart, persists nearly five and a half years after that particular air ambulance flight was ditched near Norfolk Island in 2009.
It isn’t necessary to have a recital of the many past stories about these problems to understand the seriousness of issues that Thailand is now attempting to address and how equivalent sanctions or restrictions on Australian flag carriers could prove damaging.
Should Thailand, or for that matter Australia, be busted down to Level 2 status, the flag carriers of each country would be prohibited from starting new services or adding capacity to existing flights to the US, or codesharing with US carriers, or face similar restrictions in some countries in Asia, with the latter situation already a problem for some Thai carrier access to Japan and South Korea as set out in the story linked to above.
Such sanctions applied to Qantas or Virgin Australia would be manifestly unfair. However they apply to the flag carriers of countries in which the public administration of air safety is derelict by standards, resources and effectiveness.
A potential case of airlines of the highest standard being punished for the sins of the bureaucracy supposed to regulate them, and the governments supposed to be deeply and meaningfully engaged in their performance as measured by an audit process.
Thailand’s problem is not with what its goals or ambitions for aviation administration might be, but with their current state of delivery. Critics of CASA and the ATSB have in the recent past documented the poor state of such administration in Australia, but neither the previous government nor the current one have lifted their game above taking the advice of the very bureaucracies that are failing to perform.
Taking the advice of the Australian public service that everything is fine in the administrative side of aviation for which those same bureaucrats are responsible can bring the Australian airline sector undone.
The Thai situation ought to jolt the Australian government into taking a similar interest in the aviation industry. It probably won’t.