Green flag for Thai airlines

BANGKOK, 16 October 2017” Thailand’s aviation industry heaved a sigh or relief, earlier this month, when the International Civil Aviation Organisation removed its red flag on the country’s safety and compliance standards.

A green flag opens the way for Thai airlines to once more add international services to countries that had earlier capped flight levels.

In truth, the country’s airlines were not strictly at fault. They had maintained high safety standards independently of government checks. The problem was government oversight, which proved to be shoddy.

The ICAO took issue with Thailand’s civil aviation authorities for failing to adhere to duty-of-care regulations, a lack of oversight and compliance with international standards. The nation was red flagged.

Apart from the loss of face for Thailand, which sees itself as an aviation leader and hub in Asia, it was financially damaging for airlines registered in the country. It prevented, or hindered, efforts to expand new services, particularly beyond Southeast Asia.

ICAO’s removal of the red flag indicates the painful process that focused on restructuring the country’s civil aviation authorities was successful.

ICAO’s jurisdiction stops at the doors of government civil aviation bureaus that are entrusted with the task of working in a transparent manner to ensure checks and balances are carried out.

Consumers rely on those checks and balances every time they book a flight. They believe someone is looking after their interests by ensuring airlines comply with international standards.

If the bureaus are shoddy and complacent, then ultimately the travelling public will suffer. Consumer protection should be a high priority and it starts by ensuring airlines comply with the rules of compensation on delayed or cancelled flights.  But there are other factors, too, that impact on consumer confidence.  Often airlines overcharge on routes where they have a virtual monopoly with fares completely out of sync with the distance covered.

We all understand that airlines have to turn a profit. For example if they are actively promoting new routes at considerable cost there is some justification for setting higher fares on well established and profitable routes. But often the higher fares remain for decades. They become the norm.

For example,  fares on the Bangkok-Samui sector have been far too expensive no matter how you argue that the airline in question is using some of its profits to develop new routes.

Bangkok Airways is one of the few Thai airlines to consistently declare an annual profit and should be praised for its many innovations and quality service.  However, that does not justify the fares it quotes on routes to Samui.