ICAO has not set a firm date for removing Thailand's red flag status, but says the country's procedures for awarding air operator's certificates have improved.
"Working with ICAO and expert consultants, Thailand has now enhanced its AOC procedures," says Arun Mishra, ICAO's Bangkok-based regional director. "Its AOCs are currently being re-certified progressively, in three phases, and several are already in advance stages of a re-certification process which is expected to be completed soon."
The new AOCs are being awarded by the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT), a body formed in 2015 to replace the former Department of Civil Aviation. The move followed an ICAO audit that raised several concerns about regulatory oversight in the Southeast Asian nation, which resulted in it receiving ICAO red flag status. Subsequently, the US Federal Aviation Administration downgraded Thailand to category II status.
Mishra, however, stopped short of specifying when the red flag status will be lifted.
"ICAO is committed to prioritizing this, but no date has been set at this point," he says. "As soon as we receive a confirmation from Thailand confirming its readiness, we will take the necessary steps as quickly as possible."
One challenge Mishra highlights is bandwidth: he notes that it was necessary to re-certify 28 AOCs, creating a challenge around staff qualified to handle the process. External consulants, however, were able to take up the slack.
"ICAO has been providing a good deal of on-site assistance to help Thailand strengthen its aviation regulatory oversight capacities," he adds. "Regular meetings have been held with our Asia-Pacific Regional Office, which is located here in Bangkok, the most recent taking place in March. And here in Bangkok we have also been conducting regular training programmes for Thai safety oversight inspectors."
Thus far, three major airlines have announced that their AOCs have been recertified by the CAAT: Bangkok Airways, Thai AirAsia, and Thai Airways.
"In addition to resolving the earlier findings, Thailand has also committed to introduce measures to bring greater sustainability to their regulatory safety oversight programme, for instance through additional recruitments and enhanced training for inspectors," says Mishra.