Malaysia averted FAA downgrade in 2003 as DCA quick to rectify issues

Picture of entrance and logo of Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia building at Subang.

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia was on the verge of a downgrade by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in mid-2003, but a quick rectification of problems prevented a full downgrade to Category 2 (Cat 2).

“Had the legitimate safety issues raised officially by the FAA in May 2003 not been resolved then, it would have led to a downgrade like now, ’’ said Datuk Kok Soo Chon, the former director-general of the Department of Civil Aviation or DCA, which has been corporatised and renamed as the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia or CAAM now.

He said but “we resolved all the issues after the audit within the grace period given by the FAA. We survived the audit and maintained Cat 1”.

Kok said that Malaysia was first awarded Cat 1 in 1996. The second audit by the FAA was shortly after the Sept 11 attacks. It started in October 2002 and the findings were presented to the DCA in May 2003.

Within six months, the-then team managed to address all the outstanding issues raised by the FAA and Malaysia was in Cat 1 by October of the same year.

However, in its third audit, the FAA downgraded CAAM to Cat 2 this week on air safety concerns. While this is seen as a major blow to Malaysia’s aviation sector, the CAAM board is working rigorously to get back the Cat 1 ratings within two years.

Going by regional experience, nonetheless, the path may not be easy, as it took Indonesia nine years to get back to Cat 1, while Thailand is still at Cat 2 since 2015.

“Back in 2003, drastic steps were taken to address several issues that the FAA had raised.

“We worked day and night to iron out all the details and within six months, we made sure the Cat 1 rating was intact, ’’ said an industry source familiar with the matter.

He added that it involved concerted effort between all the agencies, be it the DCA, the Transport Ministry, the Attorney General’s Chamber and several senior personnel from the national carrier who were seconded to speed things up.

Even at CAAM, things are heating up now and an executive committee consisting of board members has been set up to address all the 33 outstanding issues that the FAA has raised.

“Our main focus is to ensure that the 33 outstanding findings out of the 300 protocol questions are resolved. This action began in May this year and we are leveraging on our internal resources.

“As part of our strategy to accelerate the corrective action, we are bringing into our task force expertise from the industry, ’’ said CAAM board member Datuk Razali Mahfar.

He said the FAA would be informed of CAAM’s progress.

“We are also focusing on a longer-term solution to address our qualified technical personnel shortage, their training, remuneration scheme and the digitalisation of our operations, ’’ Razali added.

For its audit, the FAA posed 300 questions. There are 33 outstanding issues that need to be addressed by CAAM for it to be re-audited by the FAA to regain its Cat 1 rating.

Of the 33 issues, sources said five involve changing or amendments to be made to the law governing CAAM. This process can take a few months. About seven require changes to be made to the CAAM Act, 10 surround training and recruitment, and the remaining 11 are on the delegation of authority and documentation methodology.

Sources said progress has been made in several areas, including training and recruitment, and other areas are being handled concurrently.

The FAA is like the police in the sky and its job, among others, is to ensure all airlines that fly into the US follow strictly the safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation or ICAO, a United Nations specialised agency.

In 2003, Malaysia Airlines handled several flights into the US. Now, AirAsia X is the only carrier that flies to the US, to Honolulu. The downgrade restricts the country’s airlines from adding new flights to the US.

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