Thailand is moving closer towards its goal of recertifying its major international carriers, which is a key step in resolving ICAO concerns regarding the country’s aviation oversight.
LCC Nok Air last week became the sixth Thai carrier to have its air operator’s certificate (AOC) reissued. The newly-formed Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) issued the first new AOC to Bangkok Airways in February, followed by Thai AirAsia in April and Thai Airways in May. Long-haul LCCs Thai AirAsia X and NokScoot received theirs on June 12.
Thai authorities have previously said they intend to reissue a total of nine AOCs in the first half of the year, which would cover the country’s main international carriers. In addition to the first six, three AOCs are expected to be completed in the next few weeks, according to local media reports. However, some small airlines may have to stop their international flights because they have not passed the recertification checks.
ICAO issued a warning about Thailand’s aviation oversight system after finding regulatory deficiencies during an audit in early 2015. This action prompted some overseas aviation organizations to place restrictions on flights by Thai carriers. The U.S. FAA, for example, downgraded the country’s safety rating, preventing new service to the U.S. by Thai airlines.
The CAAT must recertify all international carriers in order to have the ICAO red flag removed, and must also improve oversight staffing and processes. Thai officials recently said they have resolved more than 80% of the issues identified by ICAO. The CAAT planned to submit a request to ICAO by the end of June asking for the agency to make a return inspection.
A senior ICAO official previously told Aviation Daily that the best estimate for a return visit would be “the latter part of 2017” (Aviation Daily, May 3). This takes into account the “lead time required for ICAO to assemble an audit team,” the official said.
While announcing the award of its new AOC, Nok also highlighted its efforts to reverse the airline’s poor financial performance. Nok said its plan will include “reducing unnecessary costs, improving network expansion, and further efficiency in the use of aircraft.” The airline hinted at deeper changes by saying it will “revise and develop certain business models” to meet changing customer patterns. The details of the turnaround plan are expected to be completed soon.
Nok stressed that it will continue to “fully cover the domestic market,” but will also expand its operations in the Asian region, focusing first on China. Almost all of the carrier’s routes are domestic, with a handful of international services. Nok executives recently told Aviation Daily that increasing its share of international flights will help strengthen its financial performance (Aviation Daily, May 11).
Thai Airways held a 39% share in Nok Air until recently, but its holding has been diluted significantly after deciding not to participate in a new share rights issue by Nok.