Are Thailand’s Airlines Unsafe?

Filed Under: Thai

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recently completed an audit of Thailand’s Civil Aviation Authority, during which they found some troubling policies.

Orient Thai 747 — best avoided?

Via Reuters:

One aviation source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters that significant safety concerns had been uncovered during an audit of Thailand’s civil aviation authority by the Montréal-based International Civil Aviation Organization.

The source said the ICAO’s concerns revolved around the issue of operator certificates to carriers by the Thai authority. While the ICAO cannot “downgrade” states, its audits identify concerns that could lead countries to take steps such as banning flights.

“The audit revealed some safety concerns, primarily relating to air operator certification procedures,” ICAO spokesman Anthony Philbin said in an email, adding that Thailand had submitted a plan to the ICAO to correct the issues identified.

As mentioned above, while the ICAO’s audits don’t officially directly have any implications, it’s something a lot of other countries pay attention to. And it seems that China, Japan, and South Korea, specifically, are banning Thailand’s airlines from operating charter flights or adding new routes to their countries over safety concerns:

The halt is disrupting the peak travel season around the Thai New Year holiday in April. About 100 charter flights to Japan alone have been canceled and some 30,000 tickets either refunded or modified, Somchai Piputwat, the director general of Thailand’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), told reporters on Monday.

Budget carriers have been worst hit, Thai officials said, though national carrier Thai Airways International, which is in the midst of a major restructuring, has also been prevented from expanding because of the halt.

Of course if China, Japan, and South Korea are taking action, it wouldn’t be surprising if we saw a similar response from the US or EU.

So are Thailand’s airlines unsafe?

Not necessarily.

The important thing to understand here is that the ICAO audited Thailand’s Civil Aviation Authority, and the ICAO’s concern is with the CAA’s process. Presumably (hopefully?) Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, etc., have higher safety standards that they hold themselves to, and they’re not doing the bare minimum required by the CAA.

Thai Airways A380 at Tokyo Narita Airport

I’m less familiar with Orient Thai, One-Two-Go, etc., and generally wouldn’t feel quite as confident with their self-imposed maintenance and safety standards.

And there’s also a chance this could to some degree just be political. If China, Japan, and South Korea truly have safety concerns over Thailand’s airlines, shouldn’t they deny all flights from those carriers, rather than just limit growth? It’s not inconceivable that these countries are trying to give their own airlines an advantage. I’m not saying that’s the case, but it’s also not outside the realm of possibility, in my opinion.

Bangkok Airways A320 at Bangkok Airport

Bottom line

I wouldn’t read too much into this yet. In other words, Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways didn’t become unsafe overnight. As far as Thailand’s other airlines go, I can’t say I would have flown them anyway.

Does the ICAO’s audit impact your willingness to fly Thailand’s airlines?

  1. I will continue to fly Bangkok Airways as often as possible. I love this airline. More fun than business class – on short flights anyways!

  2. I wouldn’t be surprised if the U.S. follows with an FAA category downgrade.

    But back to topic, I tend to look more at an individual airline safety record rather than a global audit on a specific country. I’d feel more safe on THAI than on Air France.

    The Philippines was on a blacklist for quite a while and my friend doesn’t have any problems flying on their carriers. He feels more safe on them compared to the likes of Air France and China Airlines.

    A bit OT but since you seem to fly on Air France alot, do you feel safe on them or you feel uneasy?

  3. Does the ICAO’s audit impact your willingness to fly Thailand’s airlines?

    no, but the quality of “service” Thai Airways provides certainly will…

  4. OX is definitely the airline I’d avoid. They take in retired aircraft from other airlines so their fleet is pretty old and outdated. I can’t say I trust the maintenance standard of LCC like OX either. And they do have a questionable safety history. Just this week one of their 737-300 had pressurization problems and had to make emergency landing halfway, oxygen masks were dropped.

  5. @Lucky

    Didn’t One-Two-Go stop flying and was made part of Orient in 2010?

    One-Two-GO Airlines Flight 269 crashed in 2007; because of British citizens on board there was a rapport made in the UK.
    Three years after the crash, the British Coroner’s Inquest examining the cause of the British nationals’ deaths cited the “flagrant disregard for passenger safety” at One-Two-GO and said “the primary failure so far as I am concerned relates to the corporate culture which prevailed both One-Two-Go Airlines and Orient Thai Airlines prior to and following the air crash.”

    Then there was the Orient 747 that took a little spin over Tokyo

    Not concerned with Thai International.

  6. Having seen the mx records for some of the US airlines’ birds in the air today, I don’t know that I’d be any more / less worried about Thailand’s airlines. Let us also remember that many of the US airlines send their aircraft to non-English-speaking countries with cheap labor to do major work and overhauls on their aircraft. Why does this matter? The maintenance manuals are written in English.

    Also, I’ve seen some aircraft which seemed to have more patches than original metal left. If anything it’s truly a testament to the original engineering and builders.

  7. I would be more hesitant to fly a Chinese airline than a Thai – however I always use my own risk assessment when choosing airlines.
    And yes, Asia / China airlines does come out in the bad end.

  8. The reason China, South Korea and Japan have taken a cautious approach to limit flights from a country with questionable government oversight in safety areas is because no politician would stake their career by ignoring danger signals. An outright ban would invite retaliatory measures. Thailand supply Asia with cheap food products and manufacturing.

  9. The problem is that every airline wants cheap maintenance now, and the manuals are always in English . Europe is being cast aside for the cheaper Far East and Middle East which uses cheap Indian and philipino labour these days . May not be great but it’s cheap. People prefer to spend more in duty free than on a flight ticket and that’s the big problem. Skilled maintenance technicians are under payed.

  10. I recently flew a domestic on Thai Airways. I was shocked when, during the safety announcement, the FA’s instructed passengers to inflate their lifejackets before leaving the aircraft. I was under the impression that all safety announcements were changed after the Ethopian Airlines Flight 961 crash in the Comores in 1996, instructing people to only inflate their lifejackets after leaving the aircraft.

    This strange safety announcement made me uneasy and I would rather not fly Thai if I can help it.

  11. @ wonkachocolat — Interesting. That’s odd. Was that in the safety video, or was it a manual demonstration?

  12. The United State has rated all Thai airlines as category 2. Everyone will be warned of their terrible safety record.

    My 42 year old son died in the 2007 Phuket crash. One Two Go was able to ignore safety rules because the government oversight was almost non existent. The pilots who spoke poor English had flown many more hours than allowed by safety rules. As a terrible storm with high winds and heavy rains raged the pilots decided to land against the advice of the tower. When they neared the runway the pilots were both so terrified that neither one took control of the plane. Neither pilot thought to hit the go around button which would have sent the plane skyward.

    The Thai government is totally corrupt.l

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