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37 passengers seek damages from CebuPac

MANILA, Philippines - Thirty-seven passengers of Cebu Pacific Flight 5J 971 are seeking the suspension of operations of the airline following the mishap at the Davao International Airport earlier this month.

Robert de Leon, legal counsel of the 37 who are members of Flight 5J 971 Crash Victims Association Inc., said they wanted to make an example of Cebu Pacific for the distress and trauma they experienced.

“Actually, the victims would have wanted Cebu Pacific’s operations to be suspended just like what the government did with the other shipping companies who had the same incident,” De Leon said.

The passengers sent a formal demand letter to Cebu Pacific president and chief executive officer Lance Gokongwei seeking P1 million each in damages for the mishap last June 2.

“The concern of the (crash victims) association is their claim for compensation for the emotional distress and the trauma that they have experienced,” De Leon said.

He said they are expecting a response within three weeks and would go to court if they receive an unfavorable reply.

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On the other hand, Cebu Pacific said they have yet to receive the formal notice from the complaining passengers about their demand.

“Cebu Pacific cannot comment on this since there has been no formal advise or notice handed to the airline,” the airline firm said in a statement.

De Leon said as far as he knows, 37 of the 165 passengers of the plane are interested to pursue the case against the airline.

“Some passengers may have their own course of action against Cebu Pacific,” he said.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) suspended the pilot and co-pilot of the Cebu Pacific plane.

The mishap paralyzed operations of Davao International Airport for almost two days.

The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) as well as CAAP, however, do not see any need to impose administrative sanctions, including the suspension of operations of Cebu Pacific, due to the incident.

“Imagine the economic impact of such action if their operation is suspended. There is no evidence to warrant such action,” Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said.

“At this point we still don’t see any reason to file any case against Cebu Pacific,” CAAP deputy director general John Andrews added.

Andrews, however, reminded budget airlines to put the safety of passengers ahead of profit from low cost operations.

Andrews said low-cost carriers should also revise their policies on fuel wherein their aircraft only comply with the minimum requirement.

“They have to change their fuel policies. This will have no impact on their low-cost carrier operations but will have an impact on safety,” Andrews said.

Andrews noted the small fuel margin allowed for Cebu Pacific flights to make another attempt at landing, particularly in situations when they cannot land properly on the tarmac.

He said Cebu Pacific was directed to extend their turnaround time to at least 45 minutes, instead of 30 minutes, as some low-budget airlines tend to disregard safety issues by turning around their aircraft faster to fly to more destinations. – With Rudy Santos

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