(STAR) There has been no Philippine-registered carrier flying to the 27 member states of the European Union for the past decade, so the flight ban imposed recently by the European Commission has no immediate impact on the country’s airlines. But the ban, which puts the Philippines in the same league as Sudan, cannot be taken lightly. It must spur authorities to speed up measures to make the country meet international standards on aviation safety.

The European Commission acknowledged recent efforts being undertaken by the Philippine government to improve aviation safety but emphasized that the efforts were not enough. The ban, the EC said, was due to “serious and persistent non-compliance of the civil aviation authorities in terms of overseeing and checks on aircraft.” The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, whose new head Alfonso Cusi took his oath for a post with a four-year fixed term on the eve of the election ban on midnight appointments, will have to do more, especially because other countries have done their homework and have avoided inclusion in the ban. While Philippine-registered carriers are not flying to EU states, the ban will affect any plans the airlines might have of doing so.

The ban is an indictment not of the airlines but of those in charge of ensuring aviation safety. This is another blow for the country, which has lagged behind its neighbors for several years now in attracting travelers. The Philippines is already way behind its neighbors in terms of airport facilities, unable to open even a single terminal at the NAIA without the project getting bogged down in a corruption scandal. Outside Metro Manila, animals wander into runways and kites pose a risk to flight safety. The country still has not fully recovered from the takeover of the NAIA air traffic control tower in November 2003 by former Air Transportation Office chief Panfilo Villaruel Jr. and a naval officer. The two, who denounced corruption in government, were shot dead by a counterterrorist team shortly after Villaruel told a radio interview that he was ready to surrender.

European diplomats have expressed optimism that the Philippines will be able to meet international safety standards and the country can be stricken off the aviation watch list. The ban should be seen as a challenge to intensify efforts to meet those standards.

FROM (ASIA NET NEWS) Jerome Aning Philippine Daily Inquirer Publication Date : 01-04-2010

Philippines insists airlines safe amid EU ban

They’re safe! Period!

Reacting to a total ban by the European Union (EU) on all Philippine carriers, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) Wednesday insisted that the country’s airlines were compliant with international standards.

“Even if the Philippines is listed by the EU it does not mean that Philippine aircraft are unsafe. Our aircraft meet the international standards in safety, particularly planes manufactured by Airbus, Boeing, ATR, Bombardier and others. It’s a matter of adopting the internationally accepted audit procedures,” CAAP director general Alfonso Cusi said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the European Commission (EC) placed the Philippine aviation community on a “watch list” and, as a precautionary measure, imposed an operating ban on all Philippine-registered air carriers flying in and out of the EU.

“In view of the significant safety concerns identified by the International Civil Aviation Organisation in relation to the authorities, the commission with the unanimous support of the air safety committee is forced to follow the principle of precaution and impose an operating ban on all air carriers licensed in the Philippines,” the EC said.

278 airlines

The EC acts as the executive branch of the 27-member EU, which comprises most countries on the European continent.

Philippine carriers will be under the total ban along with their counterparts from Sudan, according to the 13th update of the listing.

The two countries join 15 others already under the EU’s total ban. These are Angola, Benin, the two Congos, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sao Tome and Principe, Swaziland and Zambia.

A total of 278 airlines are covered by the ban.

The EU said it was willing to help the Philippines improve compliance.

Safety first

“Safety comes first. We are ready to support countries that need to build up technical and administrative capacity to guarantee the necessary standards in civil aviation. But we cannot accept that airlines fly into the EU if they do not fully comply with international safety standards,” the Commission’s vice president Siim Kallas of Estonia, said.

Kallas said the EC acknowledges the recent efforts launched by the “competent authorities” to reform the civil aviation system in the Philippines and steps taken to address “safety deficiencies.” It also noted measures taken by Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific to ensure safety of operations.

Early this month, Cusi led a delegation of aviation officials to Brussels to persuade the EU not to blacklist the Philippines.

He said the EU based its analysis on the result of the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) which downgraded the Philippines from Category 1 to Category 2 on safety ratings in November 2007 and also on the ICAO audit last October, where the Philippines got a “significant safety concern” mark.

Strict compliance

“I have invited the EU aviation safety committee to come here to the Philippines for a reinspection this May to show that we have corrected the problems that they have raised,” Cusi said.

Cusi, who became CAAP chief on March 10, ordered strict compliance with the post audit certification. He also directed the immediate hiring of 47 qualified technical personnel for the agency’s Flight Standards Inspectorate Service and told all small domestic air firms that they would be grounded if they are not certified by December 2010.

He also ordered heightened surveillance inspection of air operators conducting international flight.

Cusi said the total ban will not affect current operations of any Philippine airline.

Last PAL flight in ’99

The only airline registered and flying in and out of the EU was PAL, whose last flight to Europe was in 1999, he added.

Ambassador Alistair MacDonald, head of the EC delegation to the Philippines, said in a statement Wednesday that the EC was ready to support corrective actions and compliance with international safety standards by the CAAP.

This support, said MacDonald, could include an expert visit to review the safety performance of the major operators and the oversight exercised by the CAAP, before it reconsiders the ban in the future. With a report from Cynthia D. Balana

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved