Air Force One Arrives in Manila

28 April 2014

By Jerome C. Aning, Jaymee T. Gamil Miguel R. Camus

MANILA, Philippines—Despite the heat, media people found time to take selfies and souvenir pictures of an Air Force variant of a Boeing 757 jet (C-32A), at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

Even Presidential Security Group (PSG) members and Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) staff had their own photo sessions after President Obama’s helicopter left Naia.

The Boeing 757 jet  landed at around 1:25 p.m. near the hangar of Aeges Aviation Center Inc., where US officials’ aircraft usually land when visiting the Philippines. Secretary of State John Kerry, his predecessor Hillary Clinton and former US President George Bush were welcomed in the same area.

About five minutes later, a Boeing 747 jet (29000), dubbed Air Force One landed. Veteran airport reporters said the smaller craft served as a “decoy” Air Force One.

US President Barack Obama arrived at Naia Monday afternoon for his two-day state visit.

Obama stepped out of Air Force One at around 1:40 p.m.

The US President was met by Vice President Jejomar Binay, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Philippine Air Force chief Major Gen. Jeffrey Delgado, Philippine Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr. and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg.

The US president waved once to media people before descending from the aircraft.

He was also accorded arrival honors by an honor guard from the Philippine Air Force.

Obama boarded one of the two US Marine choppers that left the Naia ramp at around 1:48 p.m.

*   *   *

The Metro Manila police were caught by surprise when Obama was whisked by helicopter from Naia to Malacañang.

Interviewed at a police command post on Andrews Avenue on Monday noon, the Southern Metro Police District (SPD) director, Chief Supt. Jose Erwin Villacorte, said metro police had prepared multiple road routes for Obama and his entourage.

Villacorte described the possible convoy routes as “Options A, B and C,” when pressed for details.

As early as Monday morning, the SPD had put up a command post at the Skyway ramp exit along Andrews Avenue in Pasay City, near Naia Terminal 3 and in front of the Villamor Airbase.

Nearly 300 police personnel were deployed along the road.

Road closures were also reported in the Cultural Center of the Philippines Compound in Pasay City, leading to the Sofitel Philippine Plaza where Obama will be staying.

As Obama’s plane arrived at around 1:30 p.m., police officials could even be heard ordering a road block on Osmeña Highway, from the elevated Skyway heading to Malacañang.

But all the road preparations were for naught when the command post shortly received word that Obama would take a helicopter to Malacañang, straight from the private Balagbag ramp on Naia Terminal 3.

From Andrews Avenue, at least six helicopters, three of them apparently heliplanes, could be seen taking off from the airport at around 1:52 p.m.

Sought for comment if all the preparations were for naught, Villacorte said “this is still a contingency plan in case [President Obama’s] entourage will take the road.”

Villacorte said police efforts were not wasted for as long as Obama remained safe.

He said more policemen and checkpoints were deployed at Sofitel, to which Obama also eventually took a helicopter from Malacañang.

Villacorte noted that Obama’s overnight stay was a “show of confidence in our country.”

During the previous visit of a US President to the Philippines in 2003, George W. Bush stayed in the country for only about nine hours, Villacorte said.

*   *   *

Dozens of flights were delayed and a few were canceled for two major airlines on Monday as regular operations were temporarily disrupted at Naia due to Obama’s first state visit.

The Naia terminals, the country’s busiest, were closed past noon as Obama arrived. Terminal closures like this are classified as “special operations” and are typically extended to heads of state either as a courtesy or to ensure their safety, a Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines spokesperson said.

Airport officials noted that similar delays could be expected Tuesday, as Obama is scheduled to leave the Philippines at around noontime.

Philippine Airlines said 37 flights of its flights were delayed on Monday, consisting of 29 domestic flights and 8 flights bound for

international destinations.

Budget carrier Cebu Pacific said 49 flights had been delayed.

Cebu Pacific had three cancellations: a flight from Manila to Cagayan de Oro and two Manila flights bound for Caticlan, near beach hot spot Boracay Island.

*   *   *

About 100 media people assigned to cover Obama’s arrival were asked to assemble at Naia Terminal 3 by 10:30 a.m., or three hours before the scheduled touchdown of Air Force One.

The newsmen were subjected to three rounds of inspections: first by the Naia security, second by the PSG and third by the US Secret Service.

Accompanied by staff from the MIAA, PSG and the Malacañang media group, the newsmen rode a bus to the welcome area near the Ages Aviation Center hangar at the Balagbag ramp of Naia.

The media people were made to line up and asked to leave their bags and gear on the tarmac. A canine unit sniffed each pile on the ground. They were then scanned one by one by a Secret Service member before they claimed their things.

The media people were asked not to make sudden movements and not to wander around the tarmac. There was a cordoned press area fronting the spot where Air Force One was set to stop but the media people were instructed to remain there due to the heat.

*   *   *

Reporters and camera crew did not mind the strict security procedures but suffered from the noontime heat. They were given seats under a white tent with a large fan where it was still hot since the heat did not come from only the sun but from the paved tarmac.

Reporters who had covered US leaders’ visits before wore lighter-colored clothes. One even said he applied sunblock before leaving for the coverage.

Since umbrellas are banned, MIAA staff gave everyone caps. US Embassy staff also distributed free bottled water.

While the media patiently bore the heat, embassy press coordinators constantly expressed their concern about the media people’s welfare. They even allowed reporters and cameramen to take cover under a tree on a lot near the hangar, where it was cooler.

“We want you to be under the shade for a long as possible,” said one female embassy staff, who accompanied cameramen in setting up tripods on a platform in the press area.

“Don’t worry we’re from a tropical country,” chimed one reporter, who pointed out that one embassy staff wore a sleeveless blouse and a skirt.

PAL Bids Farewell to the Queen of the Skies

Time To Say Goodbye!

April 24, 2014

Philippine Airlines (PAL) will bid farewell to its flagship fleet of Boeing 747-400 in May as it completes the first stage of its major fleet modernisation programme.

The airline signed a $9.5-billion deal with Airbus in August of 2012 covering 34 A321ceo, 10 A321neo (new engine option) and 10 A330-343s with 10 more options slated for delivery between 2013 to 2019. In 2013 however, 5 A330-343 option orders were traded for 8 additional A321neos as part of fleet renewal.

No announcement has been made by the airline as to the last flight of the seven four sevens whose retirement has been announced Tuesday.

PAL’s main long-range fleet of six Boeing 777-300ERs were set to replace its four aging Boeing 747-400s plying the Manila to San Francisco and Los Angeles routes, PAL President and COO Ramon S. Ang said.

“2013 was a clean-up year for PAL as we go through the costly yet necessary fleet renewal process but we are on track with our goals and we remain committed to improving your airline’s financial and operational performance,” says Ang in a statement.

Ang also added that switching to fuel-efficient B777s would result in about $160 million in annual fuel and maintenance savings in the near-term for the airline.

PAL reported a comprehensive loss amounting to $229.7M for the first nine months of 2013 following a one-off expense of $261M consisting of 20 pre-termination penalty payments of its sold-and-leased-back jets covering four Boeing 747-400s, four Airbus 340-300s, eight Airbus 330-300s, and four Airbus 320-200s to be stricken off its fleet this year. 

Ang likewise discloses that by 2015 PAL will be one of Asia’s airline operating the youngest fleet at 4.5 years old seen to reduce costs amid expected productivity gains.

Ang did not answer queries whether new wide body orders for long haul are forthcoming but said the airline’s six Boeing 777s would be “enough, for now” to the US West Coast and soon to be launch flights to the US East Coast, the airlines most profitable destination.
PAL formally announce deployment of all their Boeing 777-300ER planes to the United States almost three weeks after breaking the news story on this blog. You can read our reports here
PAL President and COO Ramon S. Ang quips jokingly about Cebu Pacific President Lance Gokongwei being his idol.
(L-R) Philippine deputy director of civil aviation authority (CAAP), John Andrews, and director general William Hotchkiss, European Commission (EU) representative to the Philippines, Julian Vassallo, Philippine Transport secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, president and CEO Cebu Pacific, Lance Gokongwei, and president Philippine airlines Ramon Ang, lock arms after a press conference in Manila, on April 10, 2014, after the EU lifted the ban on Cebu Pacific from flying to EU member nations. AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE /Getty Images)

New York, New York!

11 April 2014

Philippine Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-11/ER from Manila via Vancouver in Newark-Liberty International, New York

Philippine Airlines (PAL) finalizes plans for direct services to New York as early as summer this year with Chicago as  next stop in the United States expansion, the airline chief executive discloses Thursday after formal announcement by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) restoring the Philippines status to Category 1 rating.

Airline President and CEO Ramon Ang said that PAL was long ready drafting its expansion plan to the United States of America its most profitable market.

Ang said New York will be flown direct from Manila by Boeing 777-300ER planes in a new home, John F. Kennedy airport. 

PAL served New York's Newark airport via Vancouver in Canada until it stopped operations in 1997 due to the Asian Financial Crisis.

Meanwhile, Chicago flights will also be flown direct by Boeing 777-300ER aircraft sometime in November in time for the holiday season.

The airline said its Vancouver and Toronto operations in Canada will stay to be service by its brand new A330-343X fleet. It is also evaluating triangular service to Miami via Toronto or Vancouver pending results of negotiation with Canadian authorities by the Philippine government. 

PAL has limited fifth freedom rights in Canada to the United States which the airline used when it flew to Las Vegas, Nevada. It has no fifth freedom traffic within the US.

Among the expansion plans for this year include increase frequency to Los Angeles to 14 times a week, 7x to Honolulu, and 14x to Agana.

CAT 1 Finally!

10 April 2014

US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg (left) hands over to Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) Director General William Hotchkiss on Thursday, April 10, a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certifying that the Philippines has passed the Category 1 level for airport safety. More than six years after having been downgraded for air safety issues, the country has regained the much coveted status, which means PHL carriers can now add flights and services to more points in the US.

WASHINGTON– The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced that the Republic of the Philippines complies with international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and has been granted a Category 1 rating.

The country previously held a Category 1 rating until January 2008, when it was downgraded to a Category 2. 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 for aviation safety matters – is deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record keeping or inspection procedures.

The return to Category 1 status is based on a March 2014 FAA review of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines. A Category 1 rating means the country’s civil aviation authority complies with ICAO standards. With the International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) Category 1 rating, the Republic of the Philippines’ air carriers can add flights and service to the United States and carry the code of U.S. carriers.

As part of the FAA’s IASA program, the agency assesses the civil aviation authorities of all countries with air carriers that have applied to fly to the United States, currently conduct operations to the United States or participate in code sharing arrangements with U.S. partner airlines and makes that information available to the public. The assessments determine whether or not foreign civil aviation authorities are meeting ICAO safety standards, not FAA regulations.

In order to maintain a Category 1 rating, a country must adhere to the safety standards of ICAO, the United Nations’ technical agency for aviation that establishes international standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance. 

SEAIR Ain't Dead!

Resurrects April 16

10 April 2014

Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, It ain't over for South East Asian Airlines International Inc. (SEAIR-I) as it begins scheduled flight on April 16 from Clark International Airport after securing regulatory approvals from the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB).

The carrier’s airline operating certificate (AOC) was approved last November 21, 2013 by the The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).

The airline with a fleet of two 32-seater Dornier 328's will start flying from Clark to Caticlan five times a week and Clark - Caticlan - Puerto Princesa thrice weekly. 

Another route network is being drawn to service more destinations such as Bantayan, Masbate, Marinduque, Camiguin and Guiuan.

Services will either originate from Clark or Cebu after losing all landing slots at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila. It can however ferry passengers from Manila on charters.

All the landing slots of the old company, South East Asian Airlines Inc. was sold to Tigerair Philippines which also was subsequently bought by Cebu Air Inc. (Cebu Pacific) in a deal worth US$15 million.

SEAIR-I launched its maiden flight as a leisure airline from Manila to Basco, Batanes on December 7, 2013.

5J Cleared To Fly EU

9 April 2014

Low Cost Carrier Cebu Pacific (CEB) of the Philippines has been cleared by the European Commission Air Safety Committee (ASC) Tuesday to fly to any States within the European Union nine months after it allowed Philippine Airlines to fly its Airspace.

The European Commission in its 23rd update removed CEB from the list of airlines subject to an operating ban or operational restrictions within the European Union, better known as "the EU air safety list". 

The Commission will likewise decide the fate of all airlines from the Philippines whether they shall remain on the EU air safety list after the Philippine Aviation Authority (CAAP) made earnest efforts to improve aviation safety as noted by the EU Air Safety Committee.

Julian Vassallo, Charge d'Affairs of the EU delegation in Manila said the EU will send another assessment team in the next few months with the aim of lifting the ban on Philippine-based airlines as whole in November.

Earlier last year, the Philippines got a positive impression by the EU’s ASC in Belgium after ICAO lifted the remaining significant security concerns regarding the Philippines in February 2013.

The safety rating of the Philippines was downgraded by the US FAA in 2008 to Category 2 upon the recommendation of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). 

A similar observation was noted by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last month when it send its chief inspectors to the country and is about to announce it's new safety rating for the Philippines tomorrow. 

The airline manifested intention to fly to Italy via Dubai using Airbus A330-300 aircraft.

PAL to Order Airbus 350-900 Soon!

6 April 2014

Philippine Airlines (PAL) cancelled five A330-300HGW orders last month due to range issues with the plane after the airline failed to come to Aeroflot's terms on using Russia's Siberian Airspace.

The remaining five orders for the 242t A330-300 variant is unaffected and will begin delivery on the last quarter of this year. 

The airline however is preparing to replace the cancelled orders with the next first set of wide body orders either from Boeing or Airbus for long haul operations. Unconfirmed report from inside sources disclose it to be four initial orders for the Airbus A350-900 which will be presented to the Board for approval and scheduled for delivery in 2018.

The Airbus A350-900 which is scheduled to enter service this September has range of 7,750nm which, like the Boeing 777-300ER, can fly to as far as London using the current flightpath which range is impossible to be achieve by the latest 242t A330-300 variant that can manage only 13 hours of flight time equivalent to 6,100nm.  The newest A330 can fly to London overflying Russia but not the current route PAL is using to Europe.

The airline has been forced to use a longer flightplan to Europe using Bangkok, India and Iran as waypoints because of the impasse. It is expected to be using the same route towards Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt. The current flightpath to London from Manila is more than 13 hours or two hours longer than from overflying Russia. 

The A350-900 has smaller capacity than Boeing 777-300ER but bigger than Boeing 787-800 which according to the airline fits better for its pan-European operations.

PAL is scheduled to fly more points in Europe this year using the leased A340-300 aircraft from Airbus Financial Services (AFS).

India’s GMR Infrastructure Wins Cebu Airport Expansion Project

5 April 2014

The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) awarded Friday the first Public-Private Partnership (PPP) airport project in the country to Megawide Construction Corp. and India’s GMR Infrastructure with a price tag of P17.5 billion.

The award came after resolving allegations raised by the second highest bidder Filinvest Development Corporation, a partner of Singapore’s Changi Airport Group Pte ltd., over the financial capability of GMR to fulfill its contractual obligations which currently operates airports in New Delhi and Hyderabad. Filinvest also sought disqualification of Megawide-GMR due to alleged conflict-of-interest.

Megawide-GMR consortium has denied all allegations.

Megawide-GMR consortium topped all other bids with an offer of P14.4-billion to the government in exchange for the right to operate Mactan-Cebu International Airport Terminal facility for 25 years which include building new terminal structure intended for international operations that can accommodate 8 million expected passengers that will use the new facility for the next 30 years. The old Terminal will likewise be re-configured for domestic operations with expected capacity of 16 million passengers per year.

“The existing terminal was built in 1995 and it had a capacity of around 4.5 million passengers per year, which was breached in 2010 when we exceeded 5 million passengers,” says Nigel Paul Villarete, General Manager of MCIA Authority.

Villatete notes that there is one international traveller for every 3 domestic travellers and DOTC projections for the next 20 years might not be enough to accommodate future influx of passengers at the airport.

Mactan airport handled 6.9 million passengers in 2013. In the same year passenger traffic grew at the rate of 14% for domestic flights and 11% for international flights.

Mactan-Cebu International Airport is the second busiest airport in the Philippines.

Canada signs $105 mln Bell helicopter deal with Philippines

Canadian Air Force CH-146 Griffon and Philippine Air Force UH-1H helicopters transporting relief goods in Central Philippines after typhoon Haiyan struck the country.                            Image courtesy DART

3 April 2013

Canada has signed a $105 million contract with the Philippines to supply eight brand new 412EP choppers made by Bell Helicopter Textron Canada, a unit of Textron Inc.

The contract was negotiated under a memorandum of understanding between the Philippines Ministry of Defence and the government of Canada, through Ottawa's government-to-government contracting organization, the Canadian Commercial Corp.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that memorandum among other confidential agreements during his visit to Manila in November 2012. The choppers are to be made in Quebec over the next two years. Options for second-trance order is unspecified.

The first of the Bell 412 helicopters are to be delivered next year and to be completed in 2016, said Philippines Defence Undersecretary Fernando Manalo.

Manalo said three of the helicopters will be configured for civilian use while the remaining five 412CF's shall be used by the Philippine Air Force for  “combat utility” duties. He did not comment on the second tranche orders.

“We are looking forward to the delivery of the first three aircraft in time for the Philippines to host the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in 2015.” says Manalo

The Bell 412 helicopter variant went into action in Central Philippine Island of Iloilo when Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) brought four pairs to showcase it to the Philippine government at the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan a year later after signing of Confidential Agreement with Canada.

PAL Takes Delivery of 9th A340

3 April 2014
Philippine Airlines (PAL) takes delivery today of their 9th A340-300 aircraft (RP-C3439, SN 459) from Madrid airport scheduled for European run this year. The plane (C36Y218), an ex-Iberian landed at Manila Airport at 2PM (PHT). This is the fifth A340 leased from Airbus Financial Services (AFS) pending airline orders for long-haul twins expected to be announced soon.        Image courtesy Lester Tangco.   

Gulfstream G650, Who Has Them In The Philippines

3 April 2014

The flagship of the Gulfstream fleet, the Gulfstream G650 is an ultra-large-cabin, ultra-high speed business jet capable of reaching speed of Mach 0.925. It is the gold standard in business aviation able to fly 7,000 nautical miles non-stop. And you have to wait until 2017 to get your hands on this business jet    

By Babe G. Romualdez

No matter how wealthy they are, some of the super rich just can’t resist the temptation to make a couple of million dollars in profit by selling their reservation for Gulfstream G650 jets to billionaires who can’t afford to wait four or five years to get their hands on this latest symbol of wealth and affluence. According to parent company General Dynamics, the G650 may yet turn out to be Gulfstream Aerospace’s most profitable aircraft ever, with an overbooked reservation order of over 200 since it was launched in 2010.

Demand is high that impatient billionaires don’t mind paying as much as $10-$15 million more for a “second hand” G650 whose tag price is originally $65 million. Among the high profile owners, include Exxon Mobil, Walmart and Quallcom owners, while Ralph Lauren and Oprah Winfrey are waiting for their own luxury aircraft. Jet brokers are having a heyday, receiving as many as 40 calls a day from interested buyers from Latin America, Russia and the Middle East and one “anonymous” order from the Philippines.

With a top speed of 610 mph/982 kph (or at Mach speed of 0.925, said to be the fastest in the world), plush interiors, high cabin pressure designed to minimize jet lag, the G650 is definitely perfect for those whose businesses require a lot of traveling on a global scale.

As a Gulfstream executive remarked during the Paris Air Show last year, the G650 has become the “gold standard” and has established “a new market segment for the whole industry” – with no real competitors in the next few years until 2017 when Bombardier’s Global 7000/8000 is expected to go into service.

In the Philippines, the only one who owns a Gulfstream jet is ICTSI chairman and president Enrique “Ricky” Razon, who travels in his own G550 to visit his container business empire spread across the world – from Japan, China, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan to Mexico, Colombia, Honduras, Brazil, Croatia, Poland and Madagascar in Africa.

Ricky is only one among 10 Filipinos included in Forbes’ elite list of billionaires, with his net worth estimated at $4.2 billion – although Bloomberg places the figure at around $5.2 billion.