Aviation Director General Alfonso Cusi said that the move is intended to speed up the recovery of the aviation body, which is smarting from the blacklisting by the European Commission (EC).
The European Union (EU) has banned Philippine air carriers from flying into Europe, but since there are no Philippine aircraft that go to Europe anymore, the EU’s move had caused “an alarming number of tour cancellations from Europe,” according to the Department of Tourism (DOT).
Last March 31, the EU included the Philippines in its 13th updated list of countries banned from that region’s airspace as a precautionary step based on the US Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) downgrading of the country’s safety rating to Category 2 and the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (Icao) concern on aviation safety regulators.
Cusi said that despite two years that the former Air Transportation Office (Ato) has morphed into a corporatize entity, not much has been done by way of upgrading technical personnel and attending to the salary structure that has long been promised to the employees, especially the air traffic controllers, airways navigation specialists and communication specialists.
There are about 360 air controllers, some 700 navigation specialists and 600 communicators, according to Director Willy Borja, chief of the Air Traffic Services Division.
At the rate things are moving, airport insiders said that it would still take about from one to two years before the country is restored from Category 2 to Category 1 status.
Cusi, who assumed the post last month from retired general Ruben F. Ciron, said that he is also prodding the smaller aircraft operators to make sure that proper maintenance procedures, duly approved and warranted by the manufacturers, are presented to CAAP experts for evaluation.
He said that the CAAP is not targeting Zest Air alone, which figured in three mishaps with their Chinese-made A60 turbo-prop aircraft, but also the general aviation sector, which engages in air charter, air taxi operation, flying schools and other private-run air carriers.
“The CAAP will audit the respective airline firms, and apply other means of surveillance because we wanted to make sure that rules are being followed,” he said.
Cusi added that the CAAP is doing its best to make safety considerations prevail, “not just because it is a requirement or international practice, but our aim is to protect the lives of the flying public.”
He said that come December 2010, those that did not comply and could not present a Certificate of Compliance, and not the Air Operators Certificate which is no longer recognized by the new Civil Air Regulations (CAR), would no longer be granted the authority to operate out of the country.
“For an air carrier to earn that COC, it has to observe a high level of maintenance procedure, that the proper personnel are employed and there is an existing organization to look after these things,” Cusi said. “We want to assure the public that the CAAP is doing everything to make our air navigation safer.”
In the wake of these developments, Philippine Airlines (PAL) came out with a statement, saying that they “regretfully acknowledge the negative effect of the recent European Union ban on Philippine carriers particularly on the marketing arrangement between PAL and KLM.”
PAL has a code-sharing arrangement with the Dutch airliner KLM.
KLM manager Ma Lourdes Reyes, however, said that the cancellation of tours to the Philippines is simply a problem of their marketing department.
“PAL looks forward to next month’s visit of the EU delegation that will conduct an audit of the safety compliance of local airlines and the country’s aviation regulatory agency,” the airline said in a statement to the BusinessMirror.
“We intend to demonstrate in detail to the EU audit team our safety track record and adherence to safety standards in all levels of our operations, in order to be removed from the EU blacklist soonest,” the PAL statement said.
PAL added that the EU ban stems from the safety concerns raised by the ICAO and the US FAA on the country’s aviation regulatory agency and not on PAL.
Last month, Cusi, together with executives of PAL and Cebu Pacific, went to Brussels to present the changes and innovations that the CAAP had achieved since it was subjected to an audit by the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Program of the EC.
One of the EC findings is the “lack of significant safety concern” by the CAAP, which actually means the dearth of check pilots and other technical personnel to make the CAAP attain the world standard mandated by the ICAO.
The CAAP even extended an invitation to the 27-member EC to come to the Philippines and see for themselves how the aviation body fared in its assessment.
Cusi, however, admitted that the CAAP still lacks all that is required by the EC and the ICAO to be able to get back to Category 1 status.
Cusi was careful not to criticize his predecessor, saying that it was their judgment call to put the proper personnel and procedure in place in an attempt to upgrade the CAAP.
However, he admitted that after two years since the defunct ATO was made into a corporate entity that is the CAAP, not much headway was made in upgrading personnel, hiring technical people and addressing various concerns earlier raised by the FAA and the EC branch of the ICAO.
This was brought in part by the meddling of the Department of Budget Management (DBM), which dictates to the CAAP the salary structure to be implemented among its 3,500 personnel.
The issue was brought to clear focus by retired general Melchor Rosales, who sits on the seven-member CAAP board of directors as representative of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
During two previous meetings, Rosales had asked the CAAP lawyers to clarify the status of the aviation body since Republic Act 9497 that created it clearly indicates that the CAAP is an autonomous, independent body which can disburse and raise its own funds without remitting its income to the national coffers.
“So long as the board approves any moves of the CAAP vis-à-vis the salary structure of its personnel, I don’t think the DBM has any reason to meddle in the aviation body’s affairs,” Rosales said. He even suggests that the monetary body’s meddling has delayed the salary-raise implemention.
An observation heard among DBM executives is that some CAAP personnel receive salaries much higher than theirs.
Now, Cusi, learning from the mistakes of the past, has moved the CAAP as an independent body and is no longer dependent on the DBM on deciding what salary level to give to technical people.
The blacklisting by the EC of its citizens going to the Philippines has worried the tourism department over the loss of potential income and market.
The latest news says that major European travel operators from Gemany, the UK and France have informed the DOT about the cancellations of their bookings to the Philippines.
Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano was quoted as saying that “the longer we remain in the blacklist, the harder it would be for us to recover from this significant loss of business in the third and fourth quarters.”
PAL is banking on the country’s return to the US Category 1 aviation safety rating to hike revenues in the coming years.
PAL president Jaime J. Bautista told reporters at the sidelines of the airline’s 69th anniversary that the company is expecting to break even in the coming 2010-2011 fiscal year, but said aviation safety issues plaguing the country can be resolved soon.
“It’s only on the condition that we should be able to fly to the United States as soon as possible with our new [Boeing] 777 that we will not get a third year of loss. But for the coming year income is not contingent on the category,” said Bautista.
The EU committee brings together air safety experts from all the 27 EU member-states, as well as from Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, EASA and Eurocontrol.
According to the EC Delegation in Manila, Cusi participated in that meeting, wherein he informed the committee of the steps taken to redress the safety performance of the Philippines —at least since his appointment in March.
PAL and Cebu Pacific senior representatives, who were also in the meeting, briefed the committee on their respective measures to enhance travel safety, the EC added.
Cusi said, “Even if the Philippines is listed by the EU, it does not mean that Philippine carriers are unsafe.”
”In announcing its decision, the EC noted that the immediate concrete actions taken by the new management of CAAP demonstrated the willingness of the Philippines to address quickly the identified safety deficiencies, and to pave the way for their successful resolution without delay,” said Alistair MacDonald, EC ambassador to Manila.
The Philippine News Agency quoted MacDonald as saying that “the European Commission has been in discussion on these matters with the CAAP since April 2008 and acknowledges the recent efforts launched by the CAAP to reform the civil aviation system in the Philippines.”
The EC also recognizes the measures taken by PAL and Cebu Pacific to ensure the safety of their operations. It added that Brussels was prepared to send a delegation of safety experts to visit Manila.
Still, both CAAP’s inability “to implement and enforce” the relevant safety standards and ICAO’s “significant safety concern” bore significantly on the EU’s decision, according to MacDonald.
“In view of the significant safety concerns identified by ICAO in relation to the supervisory authority and pending the implementation of adequate corrective actions, including those drawn up in response to our concerns in 2008 but not yet implemented, the commission considers that the supervisory authority is currently not able to implement and enforce the relevant safety standards, and decided therefore to ban from EU airspace all air carriers licensed in the Philippines until these deficiencies are corrected,” MacDonald said.
In a statement, the EC Delegation in Manila said the commission “confirmed also that it is ready to support the efforts of the Philippines wherever possible and is ready to examine any information demonstrating progress in the implementation of corrective actions and compliance with international safety standards.”
”This support could include an expert visit to review the safety performance of the major operators and the oversight exercised by the CAAP, with a view to reconsidering the operating ban in the near future.
Except for partial restrictions on North Korea, the Philippines and Indonesia are the only Asian countries banned from EU airspace. The Philippines joins 16 other mostly African countries, with a total 278 airlines, blacklisted.
While Cusi is emphatic in imposing the CAR among the small players in the country, there are several hurdles that the carriers have to overcome if they hope to be certified by the CAAP. These include possession of an airworthiness certification; qualification of all of pilots; and the proper facilities such as repair shops, training programs and servicing facilities.
As this developed, Cusi has ordered the immediate hiring of 47 qualified technical personnel for the Flight Standards Inspectorate Service—the one other hurdle for international certification.
He said that the standardization of the new corporation is meant to ensure that the aviation body would be on a par with international safety standards.
“The task is daunting but I am confident we will surpass the challenges that the CAAP is now facing,” Cusi stressed.
The only airline registered and which flew in and out of the EU was PAL, but it hasn’t flown to the continent since 1999.
Despite the unfortunate inclusion of PAL and all other local carriers in the EC’s blacklist—a direct consequence of the downgrade of the Philippine government’s aviation safety rating—PAL has assured the riding public that safety remains the bedrock of its operations. It has always been the flag carrier’s policy to ensure that its passengers fly with the full assurance of safety and comfort.
PAL lamented that the EC decision came about notwithstanding PAL’s safety record, as borne out by its compliance with internationally accepted safety standards, including the IATA (International Air Transport Association) Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) and audits by major foreign aviation regulatory authorities. For four consecutive years since 2006, PAL has been the only IOSA-certified Philippine carrier.
Two recent events led to the inclusion of Philippine carriers in the EC ban, namely, the US FAA’s decision in January 2008 to downgrade the Philippines’ safety rating to Category 2; and the “significant safety concern” alert issued by the ICAO in November 2009 against Philippine aviation safety regulators.
Despite the Philippines’ Category 2 rating, it must be noted that the US FAA continues to allow PAL to operate up to 33 regular weekly flights from the Philippines to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, Las Vegas and Guam. PAL said it safely flies thousands of passengers, including US citizens, across the Pacific Ocean on a regular and reliable basis in compliance with stringent US safety regulations.
PAL welcomed the EC Air Safety Committee’s decision to visit the Philippines so that, besides Philippine aviation regulators, it can also inspect and audit local carriers.
The airline said it is prepared for such audit and is confident that EC inspectors will find PAL as a world-class carrier of uncompromising professionalism and efficiency.
PAL is also ready to lend a hand to the CAAP, especially to its new director general, Cusi, as the agency strives to professionalize its ranks and regain its international safety rating.
Since 2006, PAL has been complying with the IOSA program, which is ISO 9001:2000 certified. It is a rigorous audit focusing on the entire operational management and control systems of an airline in promoting safety, based on internationally recognized standards and supported by a strict quality assurance process.
These IOSA standards are derived from relevant Icao guidelines, in particular, Annexes 1, 6 and 8, as well as from the regulations of the US FAA and the Joint Aviation Authorities of Europe, as well as industry best practices.
Moreover, regular maintenance of the PAL fleet is undertaken by Lufthansa Technik Philippines, a subsidiary of Lufthansa Technik AG of Germany, the world’s leading provider of maintenance, repair and overhaul services for commercial aircraft, engines and components.
Low-cost carrier Airphil Express continues to assure its passengers and the riding public that flying by air is still one of the safest modes of transportation in the Philippines.
Airphil Express issued the statement amid the recent decision by the EC to ban all Philippine carriers from flying to the EU.“While no Philippine carrier currently flies to any point in Europe, we wish to assure the riding public that our planes are well-maintained and adhere to a strict maintenance policy that puts a premium on passenger comfort and safety,” said Airphil Express president David Lim