Asia’s aviation industry faces safety challenges, rapid growth

Thailand's civil aviation department has only 12 inspectors

Asia’s aviation industry is booming but safety oversights may make the rapid growth a bust.

A third of airplane accidents in the Asia-Pacific region from 2008 to 2012 “involved deficiencies in regulatory oversight,” the International Civil Aviation Organization said in a report this year. Another 27 percent involved “deficiencies in safety management.”

After an audit of Thailand in March, the agency informed governments in March of “significant safety concerns,” prompting several Asian nations to step up inspections of Thai airlines or block them from launching new flights and modifying schedules.

The leader of Thailand’s military government, which ousted its civilian predecessor in a coup last year, blamed years of neglect for allowing problems to accumulate to a critical mass. He said the civil aviation department has only 12 inspectors, a figure unchanged for years despite huge growth in tourism.

The dictator has vowed to use his authoritarian powers to overhaul aviation, but it’s unclear whether sweeping changes can be implemented fast enough to avoid a damaging downgrade of Thailand’s safety rating.

Thailand’s problems are not unique and stem from the “superfast expansion that’s been taking place over the last 10 years,” says Desmond Ross, principal at DRA International aviation consultants and former head of the Pacific Aviation Safety Office, which oversees airline safety for South Pacific islands. Aside from hurting tourism, the ICAO warning could also prompt insurance companies to raise their rates for airlines operating in Thailand.

Another big source of concern is Indonesia, where in December an AirAsia jet carrying 162 people plummeted into the sea as it ran into stormy weather on its way from Surabaya to Singapore.

What experts say is most relevant is whether safety will be compromised as air travel expands relentlessly in a region where countries range from advanced to among the world’s poorest with huge differences in capacity to manage the safety of their air space.

“I think we’re at a turning point where we either maintain this relatively good level of safety” in Asia “or it declines,” said Ross.

Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P.
Transcontinental Media G.P.