Aviation Upgrade unlikely until 2010

Is the Philippines ready for Upgrade?
Special Report

March 9, 2009

London - The Philippines may have to wait until next year for its aviation rating to be upgraded to category 1 status as the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has yet to complete the FAA’s safety compliance checklist to qualify for an upgrade. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was also reviewing the progress of the Philippines as it sent its own men last January to evaluate its technical capability.

Its been 14 months after the US Federal Aviation Administration rated the country’s air safety system below international standards, apparently due to the absence of a vital legislation that government promised would lift the downgrading. The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) came to existence in March and has been in full operation since June. Category 2 is still there. Are we really ready for upgrade?

POLITICAL CROSSFIRE

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) found in November 2007 that the Philippines failed on six out of the seven components of the FAA’s aviation audit which encompasses international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

These are:
1. primary aviation legislation,
2. specific operating regulations,
3. technical guidance,
4. qualified technical personnel, licensing and certification,
5. continued surveillance obligations and
6. resolution of aviation safety issues.

ICAO, the United Nations’ technical agency for aviation, establishes international standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance.

The Philippines safety rating has been lowered from Category 1 to Category 2 under the agency’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program.

As part of the IASA program, the agency assesses the civil aviation authorities of all countries with air carriers that operate to the United States. The assessments determine whether or not foreign civil aviation authorities are meeting ICAO safety standards, not FAA regulations.

A Category 1 rating means the country’s civil aviation authority complies with ICAO standards.

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.

Among specific details being questioned by the FAA are:
1. the pencil marks on airmen licensure tests,
2. poor record keeping due to the absence of librarians,
3. no updated handbooks or master copies for handbooks on airworthiness, aircraft, and pilot inspection, and
4. lack of personnel training.

There were no documented training program for airworthiness inspectors and no aircraft or simulator training for pilot inspectors.

WHO IS TELLING THE TRUTH?

The main problem as proposed by DOTC was that Congress failed to enact the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Law. These convention requires a centralized civil aviation authority, which is already established in many countries, to provide safety oversight of its air carrier operators in accordance with the minimum safety oversight standards defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Senator Joker Arroyo disagreed and said that the country’s aviation officials should be blamed for the downgrade instead.

“Were our civil aviation authorities aware of the impending downgrade and yet the executive did not do anything to address FAA’s concerns? Why did the executive not inform Congress of the need for remedial legislation?” Arroyo asked.

“For one thing, during the current budget hearings, none of the government agencies involved in aviation asked for additional budget that they needed to meet FAA’s warnings. There was complete silence on the safety issues. Congress passed the budget they asked for,” he said.

The Senate was made to believe that the FAA requirement was to pass a law creating Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, only to learn that the country had failed to meet FAA standards.

The FAA had previously assessed the Philippines civil aviation authority in 1992 and issued non-compliance order in 1994. The downgrading was lifted in 1997. Category 1 was restored in November 1997 after then President Fidel V. Ramos convinced FAA officials, during his trip to Seattle that its aviation authority has rectified the deficiency.

Another inspection was carried out in September 2002 in which the Philippines aviation safety standards were assessed amidst the continuing threat of terrorism in the region. The FAAs foreign assessment program focuses on a country's ability, not the individual air carrier, to adhere to international standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance established by the United Nations technical agency for aviation, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

FAA found it in compliance with ICAO standards. However, after a reassessment in 2005 deficiencies were noted, particularly the promised amended and consolidated legislation on Civil Aviation. The current law, Republic Act 776, which was enacted on 20 June 1952, otherwise termed as the Civil Aeronautics Law of the Philippines, was no longer found to be adequate to support the growing complexity of world aviation safety regulations, and the Philippine government was made aware of it after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

The Philippines came out fine in 2002 because it promised the FAA that the Civil Aviation Authority legislation was coming out soon as it was already submitted in Congress for its approval.

According to Senator Arroyo, he did not vote for the bill seeking to create the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) during deliberations on the measure in the Senate because he suspected the bill was meant to forestall the FAA downgrade. But the bill will not solve the country’s aviation safety woes.

“What is this? When the Senate was deliberating House Bill No. 3156 for concurrence creating the Civil Aviation Authority... the battle cry was that if the Senate did not pass it, the US Federal Aviation Administration would downgrade the Philippines’ Category A rating,” Arroyo claimed. He said the 63-page bill originated from the House of Representatives and authored by an “unprecedented” 174 congressmen. It was passed by the Senate with “nary a debate, except certain committee amendments that relate to taxation.”

“Or is it just a ruse so that another public corporation can be created that will collect its own revenues and spend it as it seems fit, without need to remit its income to the national treasury?” Arroyo argued.

The conflict was that Congress don't like toying the idea that ATO and eventually Malacanang, will have full autonomy of its funds as it rans counter to their power as the sole body to provide appropriations to all government expenditures.

Senators Edgardo Angara and Juan Ponce Enrile, however, proposed the passage of a bill creating the CAA as a single, centralized and autonomous civil aviation authority in the Philippines.

Angara stressed the need to create the CAA after US aviation officials presented their serious concerns over ATO’s inability to conduct consistent, effective safety oversight.

The Philippines is the 21th listed country that failed FAA safety audit to “provide safety oversight of its air carrier operators” in accordance with the ICAO standards. It joined Bangladesh, Belize, Bulgaria, Cote D’ Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), Gambia, Ghana, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Serbia and Montenegro (formerly Yugoslavia), Swaziland, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Zimbabwe. Israel recently joined the list as its 22nd member.

On March 4, 2008, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has signed into law RA 9497, which is the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines Act of 2008 to upgrade the country's airports. It was envisioned that the new law would put the Philippines on Category 1 status.

By May, the job of overseeing the country’s civil aviation was taken over by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), an autonomous body that will replace the obsolete Aviation Transportation Office (ATO) and hope to take Philippine aviation to the 21st century.

Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza, who acts as temporary aviation chief, said the DOTC would invite the FAA by June to conduct another assessment. With P100 million released by the President, Mendoza said the DOTC has sent inspectors for training in Singapore and the United States.

The invites for FAA re-assessment in June 2008 was re-scheduled for September and was re-scheduled again for November 2009.

WHAT IS THE REAL SCORE?

Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza recently told the Senate in September last year that the country had already “substantially complied” with FAA recommendations and that an upgrade may be expected by early next year.

According to CAAP Director General Ruben Ciron, they "are hoping that by July 2009, we should have been upgraded again to Category 1. The last time we were downgraded, it took two years for us to be upgraded again.” “It’s going to be a long and hard process.” Ciron said that CAAP had already “completed about 50 percent because we have already passed the law and we are in the process of training existing staff as well as hiring new highly technical ones.” Among them qualified pilot inspectors.

Philippine aviation regulators was supposed to undergo a separate and more thorough audit by the ICAO in November last year that was originally scheduled for March, but Ciron asked for a reschedule. The audit seeks to check the country’s compliance with global standards in safety, airport quality and navigational equipment. “We said we are not yet ready because CAAP is still in transition, so the next ICAO audit will be in October 2009,” he said.

Meanwhile, the CAAP sent a five-man team to the FAA headquarters in Washington DC on September 13, 2008 for a week orientation on Category 1 standards. The team was tasked to guide their CAAP colleagues into complying with the FAA Category 1 checklist.

Ciron said the agency was already recruiting qualified personnel, among them former airline pilots who would only need refreshers to get back in working condition. He said the critical areas of compliance, such as practices and personnel qualification for pilot licensing, airworthiness certification and aircraft and pilot inspection had yet to be achieved. Still problematic are the CAAP’s record-keeping, particularly documentation of oversight processes and plane and pilot records.

CAAP had been working closely with the FAA to satisfy the deficiency. Aircraft makers Boeing and Airbus have also pledged technical assistance to pull up the country’s air safety rating. The problem is no highly qualified person is applying for the job due to pay differences which is offered in other countries particularly the Middle East. To solve this problem, the CAAP Board approved on Oct. 29, 2008 a new salary structure for the inspectors. The compensation of CAAP check pilots is now comparable to the salaries given by the leading local airlines.

Despite the presence of ICAO foreign technical consultants, CAAP is bent on hiring personnel with standards lower than what would be required for one to be a qualified inspector.

James Hooker, former chief of the ICAO flight safety consultancy panel for the Philippines, wrote in a document dated April 8, 2008 that CAAP people had been dismissive of ICAO recommendations and questioned the United Nations agency’s authority to propose ways on how the agency might overcome the downgrade. ICAO consultants working with the CAAP for months have become “very, very frustrated” with how the country’s officials have been handling the problem. CAAP has yet to fulfill the technical requirements in areas where the FAA found it remiss, and that many of the FAA requirements were still on the to-do list. “They are doing it little by little. We don’t understand anymore if they want an upgrade or they want to remain in Category 2 forever.”

After that statement, the Philippine government sought his replacement and he was relieved by Peter Weiss who now works together with 4 other consultants.

It remains to be seen whether the ICAO, FAA, and now EASA will allow such attitude on compliance and whether it will remain to be engaged with the civil aviation authority in the Philippines as they review the situation to qualify the Philippines for a Category 1 rating.

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