|By Ramon Farolan|
For those not familiar with government acronyms, CAAP stands for Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, an autonomous entity that replaced the old Air Transportation Office that was a line bureau under the Department of Transportation and Communications. By virtue of Republic Act 9497 passed in March 2008, CAAP is an independent regulatory body with quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative powers, having jurisdiction over the entire civil aviation system of the country. It is the local counterpart of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States and the Air Safety Committee (ASC) of the European Union.
Five years ago, based on the findings of a safety audit conducted earlier, the FAA downgraded the Philippines from Category 1 to Category 2; it had determined that “the Philippines does not comply with the international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).” ICAO is a specialized agency of the United Nations with headquarters in Montreal, Canada. It is made up of 191 member states. It sets standards and regulations necessary for aviation safety, security, efficiency as well as aviation environmental protection. The agency serves as a forum for cooperation in the world of civil aviation. It is currently headed by Secretary General Raymond Benjamin of France.
What are the practical effects of a Category 2 rating by the FAA?
A Category 2 rating does not normally result in the termination or reduction of flights to the United States by that country’s air carriers. However, a Category 2 country is not permitted to increase the number of flights to the United States or to substitute aircraft in the existing fleet that flies to the United States. This also means that no new routes or expansion of existing routes is allowed.
The FAA, under its International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) Program, set up two ratings for countries operating to and from the United States. They are defined as follows:
Category 1, Does Comply with ICAO standards
Category 2, Does Not Comply with ICAO standards
In 2009, ICAO determined that it had a number of Significant Safety Concerns (SSCs) with Philippine aviation safety standards. This resulted in the European Union putting the country on its blacklist. This barred Philippine air carriers from flying to European Union member-countries.
Following the downgrade to Category 2 in 2008, the Philippine government set up the CAAP to address the concerns of the international community. Let me mention here that the United States and the European Union are not the only ICAO members that applied sanctions to the Philippines; Korea and Japan also did mainly in terms of frequency limitations.
The first director general of CAAP was retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Ruben Ciron. He was followed by two civilians, Alfonso Cusi and Ramon Gutierrez. For various reasons, all three were unable to satisfactorily address the safety concerns of ICAO. Incidentally, the first administrator of the United States’ FAA was also a retired Air Force general, Elwood Quesada. He instituted the controversial FAA “Age 60” rule, which barred pilots who have reached the age of 60 from flying on certified air routes. The current FAA administrator is Michael Huerta.
When Mar Roxas (now head of the Department of the Interior and Local Government) became transportation secretary, he appointed retired Lt. Gen. William Hotchkiss III as the new CAAP director general. This was in June last year. His marching orders to Hotchkiss were to get us back to Category 1 and off the EU blacklist. In effect, this meant meeting ICAO’s safety standards since the downgrade and the blacklisting were based primarily on our failure to meet those standards.
Hotchkiss went to work assembling a management team consisting mainly of Capt. John C. Andrews, former president of the Airline Pilots Association of the Philippines and a veteran of the commercial aviation industry, as deputy director general for operations (John is the son of the first chief of the Philippine Air Force, Col. Edwin Buencamino Andrews, who died in the crash of his C-47 aircraft Lili Marlene in 1947); retired Brig. Gen. Rodante Joya, former wing commander of the 220th Heavy Airlift Wing and a management graduate of the Asian Institute of Management, as deputy director general for finance and administration; and Capt.
Beda Badiola, former vice president for Operations Group at Philippine Air Lines, as head of the Flight Standardization Inspectorate Services, with the rank of assistant director general.
In October 2012, an ICAO Coordinated Validation Mission (ICVM) conducted a safety audit and found that out of five outstanding SSCs, three had been properly addressed, leaving only two elements, dealing with certification and registration of aircraft, for compliance.
Last month, ICAO conducted another audit primarily to check on the last two concerns.
On March 1, 2013, ICAO sent the following letter to Director General William Hotchkiss III. Part of the letter read: “In accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding between ICAO and the Philippines, the ICAO validation committee reviewed the corrective actions, evidence and documents submitted by the Philippines. The committee has determined that the corrective actions taken by the Philippines have successfully addressed and resolved the SSCs identified by ICAO.” It was signed by Deputy Director Mohammed Elamiri of ICAO.
Eight months after assuming office, Hotchkiss and company delivered on their marching orders. Now they must not only sustain but improve on the gains that have been made.
Are we out of the woods?
Yes, as far as CAAP is concerned. The work that remains to be done is now the responsibility of the national government, with foreign affairs taking the lead. There are loose ends to be tied up, but the main problem—meeting ICAO safety standards—has been overcome. For a better understanding and appreciation of the situation, let me add that while the FAA retains final authority to make safety determinations and conduct its own assessments, it uses ICAO findings as a resource.
From this point on, matters should be addressed on a government-to-government basis. CAAP may provide backup support but the negotiations, if any, should be at a higher level—with our diplomats and trade officials carrying the ball; for beyond aviation safety concerns lies a broader range of national interests that bring us into competition with other countries.