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Report: Aviation Safety Audit Result Alarms Panama

Report: Aviation Safety Audit Result Alarms Panama

Panama’s ability to oversee aviation safety within its borders and comply with international norms has declined sharply in the past decade, raising the spectre of losing its safety rating with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations agency that audits a country’s ability comply with safety standards, ranks Panama 157th out of 185 member states with an effective implementation rate of 36.58 percent, the latest data show. (ICAO rates full implementation as 100 percent.)

Panama ranks lowest in Central America and 157th out of 185 countries in aviation safety enforcement.

Panama’s last audit by the U.N. agency took place between August and September 2015, after requesting an extension for an inspection that had been scheduled between 2010 and 2012, La Prensa daily reported.

Results of that audit, delivered to Panama in February of this year, rated Panama’s ability to enforce aviation safety at 36.4 percent, a fall from her all-time high of 85.7 percent in 2005.

In 2004, the F.A.A. had restored Panama’s aviation safety status to Category 1 that allows a country’s carriers to fly to the United States without restrictions, open new routes, and enter codeshare agreements with U.S. airlines. The F.A.A. had downgraded Panama to Category 2 in 2001.

Panama has the lowest scores in Central America when it comes to her ability to oversee and enforce aviation safety.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has recently questioned Panama’s ability to ensure aviation safety. Panama has scored the lowest mark in Central America, second-lowest in the Americas, and 157th out of all 185 ICAO member states. (Chart courtesy: ICAO)

Case of “Red-Flagged” Thailand

The F.A.A. analyzes “a country’s ability, not the ability of individual air carriers, to adhere to international aviation safety standards and recommended practices” and assigns one of two categories, 1 or 2.

The downgrade can have a ripple effect in other countries that take cues from the U.S. agency’s safety assessment and implement their own sanctions against Category 2 countries.

In March 2015, the U.N. aviation agency, which has no enforcement powers, cited Thailand for multiple failures in how the country managed international safety provisions. When Thai authorities did little to address the failures, the I.C.A.O. “red-flagged” the country in June. And in December, the F.A.A. downgraded Thailand to Category 2.

The economic impact was immediate and far-reaching–from canceled flights to sanctions imposed by other countries.

Thailand, which remains red-flagged, hopes to recover from its dismal rating with the I.C.A.O. and regain Category 1 status with the U.S. in early 2017 when the U.N. agency is expected to complete its latest audit.

Fear in Panama

The latest audit questioned Panama’s ability to effectively supervise the aviation industry, including the Tocumen International Airport, to ensure operational security, and to train technical personnel, La Prensa said, citing the sensitive audit results.

“[Panama] should be afraid, because if [the F.A.A.] wants, they can downgrade us with a single stroke of a pen,” Jorge Rodriguez, the former director of Panamanian Civil Aviation Authority during the Moscoso administration, told the daily. “This would be a huge blow to Copa Airlines since they wouldn’t be able to add new flights to the United States, and to the Tocumen [International Airport], which is investing over ten million dollars in its expansion.”

Citing industry sources, La Prensa said F.A.A. inspectors are due in Panama in January, but the Panamanian Civil Aviation Authority denied such an inspection was in the works.

News of the audit comes as Copa Holdings, parent company of Copa Airlines, is reportedly in negotiation to merge with Avianca Holdings, which owns Latin America’s second-largest airline. United and Delta are also among the suitors, The New York Times reported last week.

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