No Category 1 rating this February?
SPYBITS - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - February 11, 2014 - 12:00am

Spy Bits received unconfirmed reports that the Philippines will not be getting the Category 1 rating upgrade from the FAA this February as anticipated. According to inside sources, the recent audit conducted by a team from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) found the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) still noncompliant with regard to the “critical elements” under the checklist of safety requirements that FAA had been monitoring.

This is definitely contrary to CAAP’s earlier statements that the lifting of the Category 2 status was “all but certain” since “there are no more safety issues” as far as CAAP was concerned. According to a report from Journal Online, the CAAP leadership is allegedly desperate to keep this embarrassing development from being disclosed to the media and the public, noting that unlike the previous exit briefings, only three top officials were present when the bad news was delivered by the team of Gregory Michaels, head of Flight Safety Service.

Inside sources tell us, “primary aviation legislation” was one critical element that the CAAP reportedly failed in, specifically with regard to “Article No. 37 of the Chicago Convention (that) requires States to adopt international standards and procedures.” Other “findings” reportedly include procedural issues, insufficient on-the-job training for operations and airworthiness inspectors; incomplete recurrent training for operations inspectors in all areas and other technical qualifications for personnel.

It’s been close to six years since the Philippines was slapped with a Category 2 rating downgrade, and many have been hoping that the safety issues should have been addressed by this time considering that the CAAP was created primarily to address the FAA findings and lift our status back to Category 1.  This piece of news will certainly impact the expansion plans of Philippine Airlines to the United States. PAL had embarked on an ambitious re-fleeting program, ordering six Boeing 777 and 64 Airbus aircraft amounting to about $9.5 billion for delivery in the next six years. Several of the Airbus aircraft and five of the 777s have been delivered, but PAL has not been able to use these aircraft for US routes – which is the biggest and most lucrative market for the country’s carrier.

Filipino-Americans have been rooting for the Philippines to get back its Category 1 status, and are strongly lobbying for PAL since they have been looking forward to flying in the flag carrier’s new aircraft – many of them complaining that the seats on the old planes no longer recline properly, and half the time the movies and audio from the inflight entertainment program are out of order.

Definitely, CAAP has to step up to get the country’s aviation industry soaring. We seem to remember the President giving the agency a one-year ultimatum. If it is indeed true that we have failed in our bid to get the Category 2 status lifted once again, will this mean CAAP once again will be “reorganized”? Is this the reason why deputy director general John Andrews reportedly went on leave early this February? The flying public wants some answers.

Good news from the SM ‘Good Guys’

Many years ago, it would have been unthinkable for the Philippines to produce an ice skating champion for very obvious reasons. However, a lot of Filipinos were pleasantly surprised to hear that a 17-year-old Filipino kid made it to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. His name is Michael Christian Martinez – the first to represent the Philippines and the first Southeast Asian as well to take part in the very prestigious international event.

Michael discovered his love for the sport about eight years ago when he saw the skaters gliding in the SM South Mall skating rink – and he has never looked back since, finishing 7th at the 2013 Nebelhorn qualifiers in Germany and being ranked 28th worldwide in the senior-level figure skaters category. The sport is expensive, and on their own, Michael and his determined and supportive mother Teresa (inset in photo) would have been hard pressed were it not for the support of those who believe in the boy’s talent, primarily the SM Group that we are told donated P1 million to help in the boy’s training.

Michael’s inspiring story has encouraged SM Prime boss Hans Sy to be “Hans on” in helping develop other Filipino kids who may have talent in ice skating and other winter sports, opening up the skating rink at Megamall again and introducing speed skating – in particular the popular “short-track” speed skating. Who would have thought that a tropical country like the Philippines – with only wet and dry as its seasons – would produce a world-class athlete like Michael Martinez? Only a man with vision like taipan Henry Sy, Sr. would – when he opened up the skating rink at SM Megamall.

Solaire on a roll

Solaire Manila Resort and Casino is definitely on a roll, having raised some P11 billion in fresh funds for the expansion of the world class resort and entertainment complex at the PAGCOR Entertainment City along Roxas Boulevard. Solaire has been flying in a lot of high rollers from abroad, although a lot of local high rollers are fast becoming regular, who love the top class facilities and amenities. 

According to local gambling sources, Solaire reportedly made a windfall to the tune of about P400 million in the past few months, coming from one single local player – a well known TV host who is now unemployed – who allegedly loses regularly several hundreds of millions at the gaming tables. According to these same sources, this erstwhile TV host – who has also figured in a number of controversies – was already beginning to sell several of his expensive vehicles to raise more money to play some more. Rumors are also spreading that he is beginning to unload some of his very expensive real estate properties.

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