The recent downgrading of Malaysia’s civil aviation authority safety rating should remind us of the importance of achieving high standards across the board, says Mustafa K Anuar.
The downgrading of the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia’s (CAAM’s) air safety rating by the US Federal Aviation Administration is a damning assessment of this country’s aviation industry in particular and standards maintenance in government agencies generally.
This slide – from the coveted ‘Category 1’ to ‘Category 2’ rating – suggests that the professionalism of aviation personnel as a whole cannot stand up to international scrutiny, which is disturbing particularly where it concerns the safety and security of flying passengers.
It is noteworthy that this is the first time in Malaysian history that the country has been dropped from the first-tier safety status. There shouldn’t be room for slack in an important sector such as this.
If it is true, as shown by the findings of a banking research outfit, that some of the weaknesses in our aviation sector are due to a lack of new workers, underpaid employees and poor staff retention, then it is incumbent upon the CAAM to address these issues as soon as possible so that there are sufficient personnel who are well trained and highly competent to manage the industry and maintain the required standards.
To reiterate, the CAAM should headhunt the best in the business, irrespective of race and religion, in an effort to regain and maintain the top category of safety status, which comes with many perks. Meritocracy is clearly of great importance here.
It should be of concern to us all that it would take about two years or even more to regain Category 1 status, if the experience of other countries that had been downgraded is any guide.
The problem is serious enough to bring about adverse consequences. For one thing, the safety of Malaysian carriers can be suspect in the eyes of the public, which can be detrimental to particularly Malaysian Airlines that has been struggling to stay afloat all these years.
International travellers’ confidence in our national carriers may be further dampened against the backdrop of the MH370 flight tragedy of 2014.
Such a situation may also affect the Visit Malaysia Year 2020 programme that is aimed to profit considerably from international visitors to Malaysia. In short, tourism may suffer to a certain extent by the tourists’ reluctance to fly our national carriers.
This is apart from the fact that Malaysian pilots and engineers will not be able to find employment outside Malaysia, while maintenance, repair and overhaul businesses will suffer.
As a tier-two country that joins the ranks of Bangladesh, Thailand, Costa Rica, Curacao and Ghana, Malaysian carriers – in particular, AirAsia X – are no longer allowed to add new routes to and from the United States.
Nor can Malaysian carriers code-share with American ones. In particular, the code-sharing between Malaysian Airlines and American Airlines will have to cease given the recent downgrade.
This latest development might also put into jeopardy the planned partnership between Malaysian Airlines and Singapore Airlines that seeks a revenue-sharing agreement.
A quality slip of this nature should remind us of the importance of achieving and maintaining standards not only for the aviation industry, but also other vital governmental institutions, such as schools, universities and the criminal justice system – for this has serious socioeconomic and political implications.
In the wider context of the nation preparing itself for the phenomenon called fourth industrial revolution, the task of achieving and maintaining high standards and competency should not slip away from our attention and concern.