Although arrivals, at 25 million, were still more than twice as high as in the mid-2000s, their seven per cent decline was still a serious concern for a country increasingly reliant on tourism, which accounts for roughly 10 per cent of GDP.
Since then the military government has had some success luring back travellers by promoting new destinations and lifting martial law. But those gains risk being undermined by lax aviation oversight, which has caused ICAO to red flag Thailand’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA).
The UN body said that it had “identified a significant safety concern with respect to the ability of this state to properly oversee its airlines”.
Following a warning in March that it lacked sufficient numbers of technical inspectors, the DCA was given 90 days to rectify the situation.
Now, having failed, Thailand joins Angola, Botswana, Djibouti, Eritrea, Georgia, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malawi, Nepal, Sierra Leone and Uruguay the ICAO list of nations with sub-standard aviation oversight.
It should be noted, however, that Thailand performs significantly better than most of those states across the range of ICAO metrics; its red flag, for instance, concerns a 70 per cent score for implementation of ICAO operations standards, compared with 42 per cent for Botswana.
Taken alone, the ICAO red flag has limited effect, although countries such as Japan and Australia have imposed temporary flight restrictions this year.
The real danger lies in the DCA failing an FAA or EASA audit, which could lead to a severe curtailment of flights to the US and an outright ban on Thai airline flights to Europe.
This is what befell the Philippines in 2010, when a downgrade of the country’s aviation authority by ICAO and the FAA led to EASA blocking all Philippine carriers from European skies.
In fact, EASA has been investigating Thai aviation safety since the original ICAO audit, and will announce its findings on June 25.
Some nervous days for the generals, then.