KUALA LUMPUR (AP) -- The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has upgraded Malaysia's air safety rating to Category 1, allowing the country's carriers to expand flights to the United States after a three-year hiatus, Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong said Saturday.
Wee said the move will bolster tourism and economic growth in Malaysia, which opened up from pandemic shutdowns in April.
"With the return to Category 1, our airlines can now mount new flights to the U.S. and have code sharing with American carriers. There is no more barrier now," said Wee, who was in Montreal for an ICAO assembly. "This is good news after the COVID-19 pandemic."
Riad Asmat, CEO of low-cost carrier AirAsia Malaysia, said it was a "very good start." He said AirAsia, currently the only Malaysian carrier that flies to the United States -- from Kuala Lumpur to Honolulu -- will seek opportunities to expand in the U.S.
The FAA lowered Malaysia's rating in November 2019 to Category 2 due to noncompliance with safety standards. The FAA identified deficiencies in areas including technical expertise, record keeping and inspection procedures.
Under the FAA system, countries are listed either as Category 1, which meets International Civil Aviation Organization standards, or Category 2, which doesn't meet standards.
Wee told an online news conference that the downgrade prompted Malaysia to restructure its Civil Aviation Authority and make various efforts to strengthen its aviation workforce, documentation processes and inspection methods to ensure effective safety oversight.
He said the FAA was satisfied the issues identified in 2019 had been rectified, but found 29 new problems in its December assessment. Those issues were swiftly rectified in the first half this year, he said, and the FAA has restored Malaysia's Category 1 rating.
Malaysia Airlines CEO Izham Ismail said the national carrier will resume flight plans with its partners, especially American Airlines, but didn't elaborate.