Government laxity leads to EU ban on RP carriers

Published by rudy Date posted on April 1, 2010

MANILA, Philippines – The government’s lax enforcement of aviation safety rules has prompted the European Commission (EC) to ban Philippine carriers from flying to the 27 member states of the European Union (EU).

The ban is not expected to have an immediate impact since there has been no commercial flight by Philippine-registered carriers to Europe since 1999.

Aviation officials vowed to speed up reforms and stressed that Philippine carriers meet safety standards.

EU Ambassador Alistair MacDonald said that while the EC acknowledged recent efforts by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) to reform the civil aviation system in the country, enforcement of safety standards remained inadequate.

“In view of the Significant Safety Concern identified by ICAO (the International Civil Aviation

Organization) in relation to the supervisory authority and pending the implementation of adequate corrective actions, including those drawn up in response to our concerns in 2008 but not yet implemented, the Commission considers that the supervisory authority is currently not able to implement and enforce the relevant safety standards, and decided therefore to ban from EU airspace all air carriers licensed in the Philippines until these deficiencies are corrected,” MacDonald said.

Airlines safe

Despite the EC ban, the Philippines insists its airlines are safe.

“Our aircraft meet the international standards in safety,” newly appointed CAAP head Alfonso Cusi said.

The EC has placed all Philippine airlines, as well as those from Sudan, on a watchlist of countries banned from flying to the 27-nation bloc.

Flag-carrier Philippine Airlines is the only local airline registered to fly to the EU, but its last commercial flight there was in 1999, according to Cusi.

“In both countries, it’s because of serious and persistent non-compliance of the civil aviation authorities in terms of overseeing and checks on aircraft,” EC transport spokesperson Helen Kearns said.

The ICAO raised significant safety concerns after it carried out an audit on Philippine carriers in November last year.

But Cusi said improvements had been taken since the November audit, including the hiring of 47 technical personnel to oversee inspections.

“I have invited the EU safety aviation commission to come to the Philippines for re-inspection this May to show that we have corrected the problem they have raised,” he said.

In a statement, PAL said it “would like to assure the riding public that safety remains the bedrock of (its) operations.”

PAL said the EC action was also due to the US Federal Aviation Administration’s January 2008 decision to downgrade the Philippines’ safety rating.

It pointed out that despite the downgrade, FAA still allows PAL to operate up to 33 regular weekly flights from the Philippines to five US cities.

PAL said it welcomed the EC air safety committee’s decision to visit the Philippines this year to inspect aviation regulators as well as local carriers.

“PAL is prepared for such an audit and is confident that EC inspectors will find a picture of PAL as a world-class carrier of uncompromising professionalism and efficiency,” the PAL statement read.

Low-cost carrier Airphil Express also assured its passengers of its strict enforcement of safety regulations.

“While no Philippine carrier currently flies to any point in Europe, we wish to assure the rising public that our planes are well maintained and adhere to a strict maintenance policy that puts a premium on passenger comfort and safety,” Airphil president David Lim said.

“Airphil Express is committed to safety. In fact, that is precisely the reason why we are uncompromising when it comes to aircraft maintenance. We also continue to boost our fleet with the acquisition of new jet aircraft in addition to our well-maintained fleet of turboprop airplanes,” said Lim.

Airphil Express, formerly Air Philippines, recently acquired two Airbus A320s. The new aircraft began flying from Manila to Iloilo, Bacolod, Puerto Princesa and Cagayan de Oro last March 28.

Taipan Lucio Tan, chairman of Airphil’s sister firm Philippine Airlines, said Airphil Express is acquiring a total of 20 new airplanes over the next four years, in addition to the current fleet of eight Bombardier Q400 and Q300 turboprop aircraft.

Reforms on track

Malacañang has expressed confidence that the CAAP under Cusi would be able to address the safety and security concerns raised by ICAO.

Presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo said that Cusi, with his vast experience at the Philippine Ports Authority and the Manila International Airport Authority, should be able to introduce significant improvements in the safety standards of the country’s aviation industry.

“Cusi was moved to CAAP and I would think that is one of the ways by which to address these concerns regarding Philippine aviation,” Saludo said.

While he acknowledged that action must be taken to improve the safety standards of the local aviation industry, Saludo questioned the country’s carriers being lumped together with African carriers.

He pointed out that PAL was allowed to continue its flights to the US despite an FAA safety downgrade two years ago.

“Despite our downgrading to category 2, PAL continues to fly to the US. We also are able to fly to so many other destinations. So I just have to ask whether the (EU) ban was justified,” Saludo said.

“We do want to grow our tourism traffic and we do want to provide more flights to our Filipinos abroad, so we are concerned with this ban and we hope that the efforts of the CAAP result in the lifting of the ban as well as the upgrading of our category status under FAA,” Saludo said.

“This will require a lot of effort not just from CAAP but also from our carriers and port authorities. These things would have to be worked on and we’re confident that given these efforts our carriers will be able to gain full acceptance in the airports of the world,” he added.

President Arroyo has ordered the CAAP to immediately find ways to bring the Philippines back to Category 1 status with the FAA.

The CAAP has also been tasked to comply with ICAO standards. –Pia Lee-Brago and Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star)

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