CAAP torn by Western Politics
|07 April 2010|
AS expected, the blame game has been going on among aviation officials over the blacklist imposed by the European Commission on all Philippine carriers, a blow that came just as officials from Manila were trying to restore the Category 1 status for Philippine aviation imposed by US authorities.
The twin blows—from the US and Europe—are, needless to stress, impinging on the efforts of our airlines to recover from the crisis and ride as well on the economic rebound that now allows more people and businesses to resume travel plans. Among those seriously affected is flag-carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL), which recently took delivery of more units—with others in the pipeline—from Boeing, alongside its own fleet from the European plane-maker Airbus.
Despite having hurdled every major international audit on air safety, Philippine Airlines is in the unenviable position of having new, good planes, yet restricted in certain routes. Actually, the entire aviation sector was stunned by the European Union (EU) ban, because it has practically complied with all the requirements imposed by the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Program (Usoap) of the International Civil Aviation Organization (Icao).
Usoap conducted its Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) audit for 10 days in October 2009.
Fortunately for PAL, the US still allows its planes to fly to its lucrative, busy routes, especially in the West Coast, but the risk hangs over its head until the country gets back its Category 2 status. As for the EU ban, tourism and aviation officials worry that while no local airline is flying to Europe, the ban, if not lifted, will hinder the potential for flying those routes, not to mention the risk that certain EU countries may discourage their nationals from using Philippine carriers when they come to this part of the world.
The blame game now discreetly being played in aviation circles is, therefore, worth watching. To its credit, the new CAAP leadership under Alfonso Cusi has acted with dispatch on the country’s category-downgrade issues, particularly the aspect of manpower lack. He has fast-tracked the hiring and redeployment of skilled, trained people to areas where global standards require them to be, albeit the process is a difficult one, given the fiscal constraints.
Yet the other part of the downgrade and the ban deserves scrutiny as well, if the special report by this paper’s veteran aviation reporter, Recto Mercene, is any indication. It seems that in that transition from the now-defunct Air Transportation Office to the CAAP, which was legally mandated by Republic Act 9497, some pebbles fell through the “cracks,” so to speak, allowing the grant of authority to one local airline to use the controversial, Chinese-made MA60 turbo-prop airplanes.
The Icao, meanwhile, has told the CAAP that it would recognize aircraft operating in the Philippines only if their flights were certified by the United States, Canada or the European Union.
In what is seen as a move to eventually phase out the MA60, Director General Cusi recently ordered that all airline companies not been certified by the aviation body in compliance with the Civil Air Regulations would no longer be allowed to fly starting December 2010.
But some aviation experts insist that the Icao “will never certify MA60” in the first place, which puts the entire aviation industry hostage to the “issues” bedeviling one carrier.
It will be recalled that last year, Zest Air, which uses three MA60s, figured in three air mishaps at Caticlan Airport involving such aircraft.
Do we have here a case, therefore, of one player affecting the business of other players that have taken greater trouble to meet global safety standards? If the discreet blame game in the aviation hierarchy is any indication, that may be so. Let’s hope we all see our way out of this.