Thursday, October 9, 2008

RP expects FAA to upgrade safety rating

MANILA, Philippines -- The US Federal Aviation Administration is expected to reverse the downgrade it slapped on the Philippine aviation safety rating by early next year, Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza said Wednesday.
During a budget hearing, Mendoza told Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Edgardo Angara, chair and vice chair of the Senate finance committee, respectively, that the country had already “substantially complied” with the international safety precautions suggested by the FAA.
Mendoza said this after Enrile inquired into the status of the downgrade of the Philippine aviation rating from Category 1 to Category 2, which was imposed by the US aviation watchdog on January 8 over concerns about the safety of the country's airports and air carriers.
“Once upon a time, we were being rushed to pass the law to create the Civil Aviation Authority in order to address the problems at the time. What happened to that problem?” asked Enrile.
“The major one is the passage of the law,” Mendoza answered, referring to the legislation creating the CAA which was signed into law by President Gloria Arroyo on March 4.
“We have a team that went to FAA headquarters in Washington early this month. We were given some checklist on some recommended action programs. We are complying with it, and by early next year, we believe that we can be upgraded already,” said Mendoza.
The downgrade prevented Philippine carriers from expanding operations in the US.
Aviation systems of a country given Category 2 status are subjected to heightened FAA surveillance.
A Category 2 rating shows that the country lacks laws or regulations necessary to support the certification and oversight of air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards.
The Philippines also lacks the technical expertise, resources and organization to license air operations, does not have adequately trained and qualified technical personnel, among other steps to ensure enforcement of minimum standards.
With this assurance from Mendoza, the committee approved the proposed P23.6-billion budget of the Department of Transportation and Communications for 2009, a mere 3-percent higher than this year's P22.9 billion.
Angara reminded Mendoza of the need for qualified test pilots.
“We got to have more test pilots which we lack. It's one of the safety precautions that the FAA is requiring us,” said Angara.
Mendoza replied, “With the new law and the new budget for CAA, we are already hiring competent, check pilots.”
Angara earlier stressed the need to create the CAA after US aviation officials expressed concern over the Air Transportation Office's inability to conduct consistent, effective safety checks, thus failing to meet the standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Senator Mar Roxas, chair of the trade and commerce committee, had said that the FAA downgrade was “a critical issue that affects all Filipinos worldwide.”
“Aside from examining what went wrong, we also need to discuss how to cushion the effects of the downgrade, among them the potential loss in revenues for private airlines and concurrent decline in investments and tourism," Roxas added.
Roxas said that a slow and incoherent response to the requirements set forth by the US FAA would further exacerbate the problem and may cause irreparable harm to the country's image abroad.
"Government needs to exercise enormous political will to resolve this problem. The repercussions are too great, and the damage to the country's image is very serious," he had said.
President Arroyo signed into law the CAA Act of 2008 to update and strengthen the international framework of the country's civil aviation industry and meet the standards set by the ICAO.
CAA is now an independent regulatory body with quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative powers with corporate attributes.
But the CAA shall be an attached agency -- for the purpose of policy coordination -- of DOTC.

By Michael Lim UbacPhilippine Daily InquirerFirst Posted 21:53:00 10/08/2008

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