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Next aviation target: Lifting of Category 2 by US FAA

MANILA, Philippines - The government will now focus on upgrading the country’s Category 2 level imposed by the United States Federal Aviation Authority (US FAA) following the decision of the European Union to remove the Philippines from its aviation safety blacklist. President Aquino praised the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) yesterday for its effort to get the country out of the EU’s safety blacklist.

Aquino said this positive development should complement the efforts of the government to work on lifting the country’s Category 2 rating by the FAA.

In 2008, the FAA downgraded the country’s air safety rating to Category 2 from Category 1 after CAAP failed to comply with safety standards for the oversight of air carrier operations.

The FAA acted on the recommendation of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Two years later, the EU followed suit and issued “significant safety concern” on the Philippines following an aviation audit in 2009.

This resulted in the banning of Philippine carriers from flying to Europe beginning March of 2010.

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“The Air Safety Committee of the European Commission has allowed our flag carrier – Philippine Airlines – to resume direct flights to Europe. CAAP has achieved one of its major goals, and I extend my full gratitude and congratulations to its head, William Hotchkiss, and all who worked to make this possible. Hopefully, this development will give them the extra energy they need to pursue all our other goals in the aviation sector,” Aquino said in a speech during the 8th Ambassadors, Consuls General and Tourism Directors Tour.

To begin with, Aquino said his administration worked to liberalize aviation and open the country to new local and foreign airlines operating here – many of which have already responded to the government’s initiatives, such as AirAsia and Jin Air.

He said CAAP “has also been working long nights to allow carriers to offer direct flights from the Philippines to Europe and to more destinations in the United States.”

As the EU announced its decision on Wednesday, Malacañang expressed elation at the development and said it would generate positive, far-reaching effects for the local aviation industry and the country in general.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that aside from the reopening of direct flight routes from the Philippines to Europe that would boost tourism, it would also enhance competitiveness and facilitate the entry of investments from the Eurozone.

He added the positive development would strengthen the resolve of CAAP as it continued to coordinate with other international aviation bodies to improve and upgrade the status of Philippine aviation.

“Given CAAP’s positive endorsement from the European Commission, the EU may now rely on CAAP’s judgment regarding the safety of other airlines for in-country use by EU citizens,” Lacierda said. Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ricky Carandang said “this is good news for PAL, and is a sign of the improvement in Philippine aviation standards.”

Vice President Jejomar Binay hailed the decision of the EU to lift the ban on the Philippines and allow the country’s flag carrier to operate flights to the 28-nation bloc.

Binay said that he had told European Commission vice-president and commissioner for transport Siim Kallas during their meeting last year that the main issue with the Philippines was “maintaining the professionalism and regularity of air safety inspections.”

Binay said he assured Kallas that the Philippine government was taking the air carrier ban issue very seriously and informed him that the Philippines even sought technical assistance from the French government.

“The lifting of the ban just shows the EU now recognizes the Philippines’ efforts in instituting critical reforms to improve the country’s air safety standards,” Binay said.

Sen. Ramon Revilla, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Services and Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, lauded the CAAP in its successful bid to lift the EU restrictions.

Since the Philippines can now establish flights to the European Union, Revilla said the lifting of restrictions would provide the much-needed boost to the national flag carrier and the entire local aviation industry.

“It will also contribute greatly to tourism because we can now have tourists from that part of the world flying in directly,” Revilla said. 

The lifting of the ban on PAL would also result in increased business for travel agencies, according to the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA). 

With the national carrier again flying to Europe, PTAA president John Paul Cabalza said they are now expecting tourism activities between the Philippines and the 28 member countries of EU to increase rapidly.

“As a country, we should all be proud that PAL would be returning to Europe after 15 years of absence. We laud the efforts of both the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines and PAL towards the lifting of the ban,” Cabalza said.

“For our members, they can now aggressively offer more packages and services built around Europe and the increased frequencies of travel,” he added.

‘Back on the world travel map’ 

As an offshoot of the lifting of the ban, the Department of Tourism (DOT) believes all terminals of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport would be fully utilized by the end of the year.

“We see and hope by the end of 2014, our three NAIA terminals will have full capacity with inflows of foreign as well as local tourists,” Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. said.

Jimenez said the development has put the Philippines back on the world tourism map.

“We’re very happy we’re back in Europe. The Philippines is now back on the world travel map as a travel destination. It shows the Philippines is now ready,” Jimenez said.

He said the DOT is also looking forward to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in 2015, which will be a big event for the country’s tourism sector.

“The absorptive capacity of Philippine tourism will be tested in the many world conferences set to be held here, like APEC summit in 2015,” Jimenez said.

He said the DOT is most pleased with the EU’s decision to lift its ban on the Philippines, which will now allow PAL to operate fights to the 28-nation bloc. 

“This is very good news for the Philippine aviation industry as this means that the EU now recognizes the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines as an aviation authority that competently qualifies airlines in the Philippines,” Jimenez said.

“This is also an excellent opportunity for Philippine tourism as PAL will be able to effectively augment the existing services by foreign carriers that cater to tourists in the region,” he said. 

Expansions

The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), on the other hand, said they are looking forward to budget airline Cebu Air Inc. (Cebu Pacific)’s also getting the green light to fly to Europe.

Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said the EU would look into the compliance on international air safety standards of Cebu Pacific within the next six months.

EU Ambassador Guy Ledoux said during an earlier interview that the EU Air Safety Committee would look into the compliance of Cebu Pacific on international air safety standards during its next meeting.

Ledoux said Cebu Pacific was excluded in the last review after two of its aircraft were involved in recent accidents.

Cebu Pacific is unfazed by the incidents involving its aircraft and is pursuing a massive re-fleeting program.  The current fleet of Cebu Pacific consists of 26 Airbus A320s, 10 A319s, and eight ATR 72-500 aircraft.

The airline is taking delivery of three additional A320s in the second half of the year and two A330s next year as well as nine more A320s between 2015 and 2017.

Cebu Pacific is also expected to undertake seven lease returns but would accept the delivery of two wide-body A330s this year, two by next year, and another two in 2015.

CAAP, on the other hand, said they would hire more aircraft safety inspectors to cope with the planned expansion of Cebu Pacific and PAL.

CAAP deputy director general John Andrews said PAL had ordered at least 100 new aircraft as part of their expansion program.

Once accepted, these inspectors would conduct check rides on the same type of aircraft of their expertise, but not as pilot-in-command or co-pilot, Andrews said.

“They would also perform check rides on simulators or sit in the observer chair behind the pilot in the cockpit to observe the check ride,” he said.

CAAP is expected to give incoming air inspectors a higher salary grade to encourage them to join the government agency. Andrews said CAAP’s goal is for a better air inspectorate after the Philippines was removed from the EU aviation blacklist.

Andrews is positive that Cebu Pacific would be allowed to fly to European countries after the scheduled audit in November. –  With Donnabelle Gatdula, Lawrence Agcaoili, Jose Rodel Clapano, Rudy Santos, Christina Mendez  

 

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