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Davao readies raps vs CAAP over mishap

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The city government is set to file administrative charges against officials of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP)’s southern Mindanao office that operates the Davao International Airport after a Cebu Pacific jet overshot the runway and shut down airport operations last Sunday night. 

Mayor Sara Duterte yesterday said the local CAAP officials did not do anything when the accident happened. 

“We are planning to file administrative charges against the management and employees of the Davao International Airport. We’re collating the documents right now. We plan to file the charges by Monday next week,” said Duterte, adding that the inaction of the airport management caused undue problems to various sectors in the city. 

Duterte pointed out that the airport management had also been sluggish in its efforts to remove the Airbus A320 jet from the grassy portion where the aircraft got stuck.

The disabled plane was only removed last Tuesday afternoon and the airport was finally reopened that night. 

Cebu Pacific flight 5J-971 missed runway 23 upon landing in Davao City at about 7:05 p.m. All 165 passengers, including two pilots and four crew, were not hurt. 

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The jet reportedly skidded off the runway and veered to the right side toward a grassy portion in front of the main terminal.

Duterte had earlier warned CAAP officials that she would call local junk shop operators to remove the plane after airport workers failed to immediately clear the runway and reopen the airport.

The Davao Chamber of Commerce and the Davao Investment Program Center said losses incurred during the two days that the airport was closed was estimated at P247 million that included P3 million for cancelled hotel bookings, P500,000 from airport concessionaires; P1.5 million for transport service providers, P50 million for other allied industries, P2 million for airport terminal revenues, and P190 million for cargo transactions.

Duterte said the administrative charges would include the airport manager down to the employees on duty last Sunday night when the jet mishap happened.

Duterte likewise lamented how the management of the airport turned away the personnel of the city’s 911 Emergency Response Center who were ready to assist the affected passengers. 

She said that an airport security guard alerted the 911 hotline more than an hour after the incident and another call from Cebu Pacific was made seeking assistance from the city’s emergency center. 

Meanwhile, the passengers of Flight 5J-971 are also set to file separate charges against Cebu Pacific airline for ineptness and mismanagement during the crisis. 

The passengers reportedly met Tuesday night and they reportedly plan to register the group with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to file a class suit against Cebu Pacific. 

Duterte also put up a text hotline for the passengers of the flight should they need legal assistance in filing the corresponding charges against the airline.

Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles said yesterday Congress should proceed with its inquiry into the Cebu Pacific runway mishap now that the CAAP has determined that the incident was caused by pilot error.

Nograles said that the probe should not just focus on the accident itself but also tackle safety issues related to the various promotional campaigns of local airlines to boost sales.

He said there are reports that many of Cebu Pacific’s pilots and in-flight crews were overworked and are not properly rested to be able to cover additional flights caused by overbooking.

Malacañang assured the public yesterday that the CAAP would conduct an impartial investigation on the Cebu Pacific mishap in Davao City. 

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda gave the assurance following reports a CAAP official was formerly connected with the Gokongwei-owned Cebu Pacific, adding that Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and CAAP director general William Hotchkiss are there to ensure this. 

“You can be assured that Secretary Abaya will and General Hotchkiss can assure the public of an impartial investigation on this matter, regardless of whether they are connected previously to any airline or any airline company,” Lacierda said. 

He refused to say, however, whether Cebu Pacific should be held liable or not, noting that the CAAP investigation is already underway.

“So we’ll just wait for the conclusion of the CAAP probe as to what would be their eventual findings.”

Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. called on the CAAP to ensure a thorough probe of the Cebu Pacific mishap.

Revilla, chairman of the congressional oversight committees on CAAP, lamented that many passengers were shaken by the incident and there were complaints on how Cebu Pacific personnel mishandled the incident.

Revilla is concerned that the incident will have an impact on the ongoing review on the civil aviation status of the Philippines.   

CAAP claim premature

The chairman and president of the Air Safety Foundation Amado Soliman Jr. criticized the CAAP for prematurely concluding that the Cebu Pacific mishap was caused by pilot error during an interview with ANC.

Soliman said the CAAP probe should focus on how to prevent similar accidents in the future instead of pinpointing blame.

He also noted it is unfair for the CAAP to say the pilots made the wrong decision without knowing the exact circumstances.

“Do not make judgment unless you have the facts, did they read the black box?” Soliman added.

Airport sources said that the flight recorder or black box was recovered from the plane only last night (Tuesday) or early Wednesday morning and it will be sent to Singapore for assessment.

John Andrews, deputy director general of the CAAP, said that they “have the evidence to state for a fact that pilot error was involved. It is not the plane, no problem with the plane.”

Cebu Pacific also denied claims that its crew did not give adequate assistance to the passengers of Flight 5J-971.

“The crew, they did not panic, they had the presence of mind to follow procedure which is what they were trained to do,” Candice Iyog, vice president for marketing and distribution of the airline, said in a statement last Tuesday.

Iyog gave the comment amid attacks on the airline’s crew, particularly the statement given by Ateneo de Davao University president Joel Tabora who said the handling of the incident showed the airline personnel’s “insensitivity” and “ineptness.”

Tabora also complained about the “27 minutes” of delay in allowing the passengers to disembark.

Iyog recounted that within five minutes of the plane’s landing, the crew saw that as the engine was not on fire there was no need to immediately evacuate the passengers.

She added that the personnel on board also checked each of the passengers before allowing them to alight from the aircraft.

“And given the position of the aircraft, it was tilted to the front so if they had opened the back [door] and all the slides, it could have caused more injury if the crew had panicked and rushed everybody off the aircraft,” Iyog said, explaining why there was no emergency evacuation that occurred.

The airline official explained that the crew did a “precautionary disembarkation,” or allowing the passengers to disembark at the front door using a slide.

Cebu Pacific chief executive officer Lance Gokongwei on Monday night apologized for the inconvenience the incident had caused the passengers. 

“Again, we would like to sincerely apologize to all those who were affected by the Davao Airport closure,” said Gokongwei.         

Cebu Pacific personnel with the help of CAAP and the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) were able to remove the aircraft from the grassy portion beside the runway to resume airport operations. With Rudy Santos, Paolo Romero, Alexis Romero, Delon Porcalla, Christina Mendez

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