Japan Clips Thailand’s Wings With Airline Ban

The Wall Street Journal - Business

Japan Clips Thailand’s Wings With Airline Ban

Thailand says it is looking at ways to improve airline safety procedures after an aviation agency raised concerns

Japan’s ban on Thailand’s airlines also extends to established carriers like Thai Airways. Photo: Reuters

March 30, 2015 7:41 a.m. ET

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/japan-clips-thailands-wings-with-airline-ban-1427715681

BANGKOK—Thai authorities said Monday they will use military-provided powers to improve a poor safety rating from the International Civil Aviation Organization that prompted Japan to ban Thai carriers from adding new flights last week.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters he needed to use the special powers, written into law after he seized power in a coup d’état last May, to bypass time-consuming legislative approvals for improving safety procedures on Thai carriers. He also said Thailand might hire foreign experts to help bring its aviation sector into line with international standards following the ICAO report, which, according to the agency’s communications chief Anthony Philbin, “revealed some safety concerns, primarily relating to air operator certification procedures.”

In an email, Mr. Philbin didn’t provide any further details about the audit, citing confidentiality agreements between ICAO and member nations.

The scheduled review took place between January 19 and January 30 and prompted Japan to ban charter flights from Thailand as well as new routes. Prajin Juntong, Thailand’s transport minister and a former air force chief, told reporters he was concerned that other countries such as China, South Korea and Singapore might follow Tokyo’s lead.

He said Thailand had already responded to ICAO’s findings, and the agency had made some additional suggestions, with which Thai authorities are now working to comply, with the use of military-provided powers if necessary.

“Unless this is solved quickly, the problem can create a domino effect,” Mr. Prajin said.

ICAO’s poor review presents a fresh challenge for a country whose economy is already struggling. Safety concerns for years prevented carriers in the Philippines from adding new flights to the U.S. until the curbs were lifted recently, while 51 Indonesian carriers were barred from entering European Union airspace in 2007 for two years.

Thailand is particularly reliant on tourism, and its dependence has grown since the armed forces seized power last year. While manufacturing and exports have slumped in recent months—shipments fell 6% on year in February—tourist arrivals have grown, with many visitors coming from China and other Asian countries.

The Japan ban also scuttles low-cost carriers’ plans to launch direct flights there. Among those affected are Thai AirAsia X, an affiliate of Malaysia’s AirAsia Bhd., and NokScoot, a joint venture between Thailand’s Nok Air and Singapore’s Scoot.

Japan’s move also prevents established carriers such as Thai Airways International from adding flights to destinations in Japan, although Thai Airways President Charamporn Jotikasthira said in a statement that all current flights remain operational although two charter flights have been affected.

As well as submitting a plan to address the shortcomings in the ICAO audit, Thailand has launched a diplomatic effort to prevent other countries from following Japan’s lead. Mr. Prajin said Gen. Prayuth met with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the funeral of Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew over the weekend. Thailand has also assigned its ambassador to Japan to raise the issue there.

—Nopparat Chaichalearmmongkol contributed to this article.

Write to James Hookway at james.hookway@wsj.com

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