Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Philippine Government urged to tap local aviation experts to get FAA rating upgrade

THE government should tap Filipino experts on aviation and similar local professionals in the international travel industry to be able to get a rating upgrade from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the US, an association of travel agencies suggested.

Robert Lim Joseph, chairman emeritus of the National Association of Independent Travel Agencies Inc., made the suggestion because of the scheduled FAA inspection of local airport facilities this month.

Nearly two years ago, the FAA placed the Philippines on a list of 21 countries in Category 2 from Category 1 “for failure to provide safety oversight of its air-carrier operators in accordance with the safety-oversight standards set by the International Civil Aviation Authority.”

Thus, the American agency said, “the Philippines is unsafe port of origin.”

“A Category 2 rating means a country either lacks laws or regulations necessary to oversee air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards, or that its civil-aviation authority—equivalent to the FAA—is deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record-keeping or inspection procedures,” according to a US Embassy statement.

After the FAA category downgrade, President Arroyo ordered the concerned government agencies to work for the upgrade within 90 days.

“But what has been done to get the upgrade after more than one year?” Joseph said, adding that the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) should get truly knowledgeable people to overcome the obstacles in getting the upgrade.

For example, he said, the CAAP should consult with seasoned international pilots of Philippine Airlines (PAL) who really understand international aviation safety and whose operation is directly affected by the FAA downgrade.

He explained that “PAL has good pilots because of training and discipline,” and who are strictly checked up every six months to make sure they are updated and do not slip up on international safety standards.

He added that PAL, the only local airline flying to the United States, has the motivation to help get the upgrade because Category 2 has placed it in a straightjacket that it cannot use bigger and better aircraft until after the Philippines is raised to Category 1.

He noted that PAL is scheduled to get delivery of six new Boeing 777-300ER planes starting from the end of the year until 2011 to be used for flights to San Diego, Chicago and New York, which might only be mothballed if the Philippines remains in Category 2.

Also, the private local travel business, which is adversely affected by the downgrade because airline sales are restricted to current aircraft, is very knowledgeable about the business of passenger safety and security and can provide a lot of technical help, he said.

Joseph, who is also honorary consul general of Latvia to the Philippines, said it is understandable that the CAAP does not have enough experts yet because it was only created on March 5, 2008, as a result of the downgrade. Its predecessor is the Air Transportation Office.

Right now, the country’s prospect of getting an upgrade looks bleak because of the September 13 breakdown of the radar facilities in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, which stopped domestic and international flights for more than a day. A new radar will be operational only at the end of the year.

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