Thursday, December 3, 2009

Only 1 of 8 CAAP check pilots sent for training qualifies

ONLY one of the eight check pilots sent for training on higher-category aircraft was able to make the grade, marginally at that.

Thus, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has to resort to the hiring of consultants from the military and the airlines.

The agency spent some P2 million each for the training of the eight to qualify them as check pilots for higher-category aircraft, such as the Boeing 747, Airbus 340 and A320.

CAAP Director General Ruben Ciron told Lakas Rep. Al Francis Bichara of Albay: “It is no wonder that when it comes to courses where true knowledge and skills have to be measured, this group [pilots and other technical personnel] has been found wanting.”

Ciron said quantifying the success rate of the training of the eight examinees, for whom the CAAP spent P15 million for training, is a return of only 12 percent.

“Given this situation, and given the International Civil Aviation Organization [Icao] minimum requirements, there is no other recourse but to source from the industry or the Air Force, which are about the only sources that can be considered if the CAAP will ever hope to be Federal Aviation Administration and Icao compliant.”

Ciron pointed out that pilots in the private sector are usually compensated by as much as P250,000 to P500,000 a month “and would only consider joining the Caap when the new salary rates are approved.”

Bichara earlier filed House Resolution 1181, seeking congressional inquiry into the alleged “militarization” of the Caap after it hired retired military officials and personnel as consultants.

The Bicol representative warned that “the country might not regain Category 1 status from the US FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] if the agency could not address the organizational problems and ‘demoralization’ among CAAP rank-and-file.”

He said the presence of several retired military personnel has created an impression that the agency is being “militarized.”

The basis of Bichara’s resolution is a letter to the House of Representatives on June 2, 2009, allegedly signed by 63 officials and employees of the Caap’s Flight Standards Inspectorate Service (Fsis), which used to be the abolished Aviation Safety Division (ASD) of the Air Transportation Office (Ato).

The group is reportedly seeking the help of anybody who could help its members get appointed in the CAAP.

Ciron told Bichara that the 63 personnel from the FSIS have been forum-shopping, hoping to get sympathy for imagined grievances. He added that these same officials are holdovers from the Ato, who have been “presumptuously claiming that they are the regular and career personnel of the Caap.”

He said the 63 officials and personnel of the defunct ASD constiture only a small portion of the 3,700 employees of the agency, who have been supportive of the new management.

“The [personnel of] other three main services of the Caap—the Air Traffic Service—the Air Navigation Service and the Airport Development and Management Service continue to professionally perform their duties, even as there are delays in the approval of the new salary structure.”

Ciron said the Ato has been totally abolished when the Caap was created by Republic Act 9497. “The law did not provide automatic absorption of Ato personnel. It only provided for accommodation of ‘qualified’ Ato personnel in the new organization, subject to civil-service rules.”

He told Bichara that one of the most critical findings of the FAA International Aviation Safety Audit (Faa-Iasa), “is the [Caap’s] lack of qualified technical personnel.

“This is reflected in the 51-percent fill-up rate at the then-Aircraft Safety Division [Asd], where the highest item is no more than the equivalent of a Division Chief, or Salary Grade 24.

Given this situation, Ciron said it was a common situation that Ato inspectors who flew nothing more than single-engine Cessna aircraft are inspecting and checking flight deck crew members of Boeing 747s, Airbus 340s and A320s.

“That was enough for the FAA to conclude the lack of qualified personnel,” he added, leading to the then ATO’s downgrading.

Ciron said the agency has been trying to institute improvements and reforms, but within the budgetary limits and constraints of civil-service regulations.

Given this situation, he said even if a new salary scheme were put in place, it would approximate only 50 percent of the lower end of the aviation industry scale for the highest position in the agency.

He added that the chances of attracting qualified personnel lie among Filipino airmen working abroad, who may eschew their financial gains if only to be with their family in the Philippines.

“Hopefully, these Filipino airmen enjoying $8,000 to $10,000 entry- level pay would forgo higher salaries if only they can be with their families and subsist on the local diet that they are accustomed to.”

Air Force consultants in the Caap who may have retired or have pursued second careers in private businesses and corporate boardrooms are the only one willing to accept the agency’s low consultancy fees, on the promise of better pay in the future, Ciron told Bichara.

He also informed the Bicol lawmaker that a Joint Congressional Committee, chaired by Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. for the Senate and Lakas Rep. Monico Puentevella of Bacolod for the Lower House, exercises oversight functions over the agency.

“I am sure that with your wholehearted support and understanding of the birth pains that a new organization invariably suffer, we will soon achieve a world-class Philippine civil aviation,” Ciron added.

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