Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Safety concerns prompt Cebu Pacific to suspend flights to Catarman

STARTING on May 9, Cebu Pacific (CEB) will suspend its four-times weekly Manila-Catarman service because of unresolved airport-safety issues.

“Since we started operations last February there had been three runway incursions by both people and vehicles. Since these incidents remain unresolved despite our repeated request for action by government agencies, we have decided to suspend our flights to Catarman in the interest of passenger safety,” said Candice Iyog, CEB’s vice president for marketing and distribution.

Iyog said the Catarman operations will resume once flight safety is assured and the runway is properly secured for commercial operations.

“We take safety seriously and cannot operate under these conditions. We are working closely with our colleagues in the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines and local authorities to resolve these open issues,” she added.

CEB started its ATR72 service to Catarman on February 14 with scheduled flights every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

In March one of CEB flights had to abort landing when a motorcycle suddenly entered the runway. The said flight landed safely afterward. This incident was followed by a similar aborted landings by CEB, which prompted the local carrier to eventually suspend its flights to Catarman.

Catarman Airport has been the subject of complaints from the aviation community because of the presence of so many vehicles on the runway during the afternoon. The airport is usually busy in the morning with the arrival and departure of domestic scheduled flights.

However, the presence of people and vehicles on the runway, even when no scheduled flights are expected, proved to be disastrous to a light aircraft when it attempted to make an emergency landing about two years ago.

According to a Catarman Airport employee, the light aircraft had engine trouble and was about to land on the runway when the mass of people and vehicles convinced the pilot that he was headed toward a provincial road, instead of a runway.

The aircraft aborted its emergency landing and ended up ditching in the sea instead, the Catarman Airport official said, requesting not to be named for obvious reasons.

In the meantime, Iyog said CEB will increase its Manila-Calbayog flights to daily, up from three times weekly to accommodate the affected passengers.

“We hope that this issue is resolved soon so we can resume our flights to Catarman and continue to offer our trademark low fares.”

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