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CAAP defers new aircraft turnaround policy

MANILA, Philippines - The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has decided to defer the implementation of a minimum 40-minute scheduled ground time for the domestic flights of budget airline Cebu Air Inc. (Cebu Pacific) so as not to affect at least 7,000 passengers.

Capt. John Andrews, deputy director general CAAP, said in a press conference that the regulator decided to call off the implementation of an order requiring Cebu Pacific to adopt a 40-minute ground time for domestic flights instead of the original plan of 45 minutes from the current 30 minutes.

“This is not feasible at this time. We are therefore cancelling the order for them to comply with the 45-minute scheduled ground time,” he stressed.

Instead, Andrews said the mandatory scheduled ground time would be imposed on all airlines, particularly low cost carriers, as early as the start of the “winter” season or on Oct. 1.

He told reporters at a press conference that the implementation of the order on the scheduled ground time for Cebu Pacific would affect a total of 75 flights involving about 7,000 passengers.

“It will result to delays in 75 flights and this will have a boomerang effect and most likely the last flights will be cancelled,” he added.

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Andrews said there is no definite schedule yet for the implementation of the 40-minute scheduled ground time but the regulator is looking at the “winter” season or October as the airlines have yet to finalize their scheduled flights.

“A 40-minute mandatory scheduled ground time will be done by all airlines. The effectivity will still be determined but we are looking at the coming winter schedule,” he said.

Andrews said the policy on scheduled ground time only covers domestic flights as international flights have a longer ground time of over 45 minutes.

“In international flights, the ground time is always over 45 minutes because refueling already takes 30 minutes. We don’t have to include regional and international flights since we don’t have any accidents involving regional and international flights,” he said.

Unlike domestic flights, he added that international flights have not been involved in a similar accident such as the four accidents involving Cebu Pacific aircraft.

For his part, Manila International Airport Authority general manager Angel Honrado said the longer scheduled ground time would give pilots and co-pilots more time to do their duties and even rest.

“The human body needs some rest. Right now it is like finish or not finish, pass your paper. But with the longer scheduled ground time the pilots will have enough time to do what they should be doing,” Honrado stressed.

According to the aviation officials, the CAAP has started regulating low cost carriers to prevent accidents in the future brought about by the practice of airlines to maximize their aircraft through shorter scheduled ground time.

Andrews, who used to work for Cebu Pacific, said some practices of budget airlines would have to be corrected to ensure the safety of passengers.

“Before the mission of budget airlines is value for money but now it is we value your money. There is something wrong there,” Andrews said.

CAAP earlier announced that the new policy on scheduled ground time for domestic flights would be imposed on Cebu Pacific on Aug. 1 and on other airlines starting Oct. 1.

The new policy was an offshoot of a June 2 incident wherein an aircraft of Cebu Pacific veered off the runway of the Davao International Airport rendering the international gateway useless in two days.

The CAAP is set to implement the new policy to address alleged pilot fatigue and to make sure that pilots perform necessary tasks such as the 360 walk-around inspection of aircraft between landing and take-off.

Local airlines earlier contested the new policy saying the 25 minute quick turnaround time is done all over the world and has nothing to do with safety.

They argued that the new longer turnaround time policy would result to fewer flights as well as passengers and at the same time affect the Aquino administration’s target of achieving 10 million tourists by 2016.

However, CAAP is bent on pushing through with the new policy that it said would boost the country’s aviation safety standards in line with the ongoing review by the US Federal Aviation Administration (US-FAA) that is likely to upgrade the country’s status back to Category 1 after being downgraded to Category 2 status in 2008 due to safety issues.

Last July 10, the European Union lifted the ban on national flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) from flying in the European airspace after CAAP complied with all the safety concerns.

The ban on other airlines including Cebu Pacific which was put in place in March 2010 could also be lifted depending on how these airlines address aviation safety concerns.

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