With Thai airlines facing sanctions over safety issues, junta head may force aviation reforms

BANGKOK – The head of Thailand’s ruling junta may use extraordinary constitutional powers to expedite safety improvements in the aviation sector, which is facing international sanctions, the country’s transport minister said Monday.

The International Civil Aviation Organization this month designated Thailand’s air safety standards as a cause for concern. That led Japan, South Korea and China to block Thai airlines from adding more flights or otherwise modifying their schedules, said Thai officials, who worry that other countries may follow suit.

Transport Minister Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong said Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha could exercise the special powers to push necessary improvements in 45 to 60 days. He said such changes would normally take years to go through the bureaucracy.

Prayuth recently said he may keep order by using the junta-imposed constitution’s Article 44, which gives him absolute power over almost all aspects of government.

Prayuth, formerly the army commander, said he intends to use his powers under Article 44 in lieu of martial law. Martial law, imposed shortly before he staged a coup against an elected government in May last year, has been criticized by rights groups and Western governments.

However, they are at least as alarmed by Article 44, which they fear allows draconian repression. Under a similar law in the 1960s, a Thai dictator carried out summary executions.

Thailand was audited by the ICAO in January, about a decade after its last assessment in 2005. Audits assess a country’s overall ability to ensure aviation safety. Among the areas considered are personnel licensing and training, airworthiness assessment and certification, accident investigation and airline operations oversight.

Prajin said several committees have been established to begin work Wednesday on eight aspects of concern. These include outdated laws, inadequate official oversight of safety matters, and personnel training and equipment short of international standards.

He said that in the next few days, a committee will travel to South Korea, China, Australia and Germany to explain the aviation reform plans.

Among the airlines forced to cancel planned flights are budget carriers Thai AirAsia X, NokScoot and Asia Atlantic Airline, Thailand’s Department of Civil Aviation said in a statement. Flag carrier Thai Airways is also affected.