By FLORO M. MERCENE
THE Philippines is maximizing its gains by streamlining its procedures and addressing safety concerns on the way to regaining Category 1 status. It has been five years since the Philippines was downgraded to the second tier level and there seems to be a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.
In my previous column of March 23, I mentioned that solving the technical problems pointed out by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is quite easy. What is difficult and more subtle to address is the political and economic aspects of the problem.
The recent announcement by Philippine Airlines (PAL) to drop Airbus for Boeing wide bodies like the B777 and B787 seems the right path to take if the Philippines is to gain sympathy from the Americans.
Remember that the US economy is in depression or just recovering. PAL’s refleeting with newer B747-800, rather than the A380 sends the right signal to the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world, whose dominance is now being threatened by Airbus.
The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) can also lend a helping hand by buying replacements for radars and other high-value navigational equipment from the US. Right now, the radar being used by the CAAP is the old Thales model from France and its subsidiaries. Maybe an American-made replacement would soften the FAA stance and give us the Category 1 nod, since, according to the CAAP, most of the issues noted by the FAA have been addressed.
PAL plans to acquire up to 100 new aircraft over the next five years.
Ramon Ang, the new president and CEO, said the new aircraft would come in the form of regional single-aisle planes like the Airbus A320 and its higher capacity variant, the A321, as well as longer-range wide-body jets.
He said the 100 aircraft will include those that they will buy to replace the old ones currently in their fleet.
Ang said PAL’s expansion plans would hinge on the government’s ability to restore the country to “Category 1” status with the US FAA. The US agency downgraded the Philippines’ status to Category 2 five years ago due to concerns about the local regulator’s ability to enforce safety standards.
Because of this, PAL has been unable to replace the aging B747 aircraft on its lucrative trans-Pacific routes with more fuel-efficient B777 twin-engine wide-body jets, of which it has two in its fleet.
Ang said PAL will use its resources to help the government regain Category 1 status. “We will help the Civil Aviation Administration of the Philippines where we can.”
With the planned refleeting and the restoration of the Category 1 status, the PAL chief said the airline would have no problem in regaining market share that was lost to low cost carriers, as well as boosting revenues and earnings.