US FAA downgrades RP carriers

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — The US aviation watchdog has downgraded Philippine airline operations and put them under heightened scrutiny because of a lack of safety standards, the American Embassy said yesterday.

The Federal Aviation Administration has informed the government it has “serious concerns” about its oversight of air operations, which it said were not in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization safety standards.

The decision gives the Philippines a Category 2 rating along with countries such as Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Indonesia.

This meant Philippine carriers could continue flying to the US but only “under heightened FAA surveillance,” the embassy said in a statement.

The move is expected to hurt the expansion plans of Philippine Airlines, which is the only local carrier flying to the United States.

“Because of this, we cannot fly to new destinations in the US,” PAL president Jaime Bautista told a news briefing in Makati City yesterday.

While an “Open Skies” agreement covered both countries, only American carriers were free to fly to the Philippines with unrestricted destinations and frequencies, Bautista said.

Philippine carriers are denied the same access to the United States because of the Category 2 rating.

Senator Joker Arroyo said he was shocked by the downgrade and accused local aviation officials of deceiving the Senate when they assured them no such action would be taken if they passed a bill creating the Civil Aviation Authority.

“Were our civil aviation authorities aware of the impending downgrade?” Arroyo asked.

“Was the creation of the Civil Aviation Authority, as touted during the hearings, really what the FAA asked for to forestall the downgrade? Or was that just a ruse so that another public corporation could be crated to collect its own revenues and spend it as it sees fit, without the need to remit its income to the National Treasury?”

Congress approved the bill in December but President Arroyo has not signed it.

At the press briefing yesterday, PAL’s Bautista said the airline had already ordered six new Boeing 777-300 ER planes to be delivered starting September 2009. These were supposed to be used to open services to San Diego, Seattle, Chicago, New York and Saipan.

PAL also wanted to launch a new international service that would provide a direct link between Vancouver and San Diego three times a week.

It also planned to increase its flights to American destinations such as Hawaii, Guam and Palau.

The embassy gave no specifics for the Philippines’ shortcomings in ensuring a safer air transportation system.

On its Web site, the FAA says the Category 2 rating means that the country lacks laws or regulations necessary to support the certification and oversight of air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards.

It also says it lacks the technical expertise, resources, and organization to license air operations, does not have adequately trained and qualified technical personnel, and does not provide adequate inspector guidance to ensure enforcement of minimum standards.

FAA rules stipulate that airlines from the Philippines cannot expand services to the United States while it carries a Category 2 rating.

The embassy also advised Americans flying to and from the Philippines to use carriers from countries whose civil aviation authorities meet international standards.

A spokesman for Cebu Pacific said it would not be affected by the downgrade since it does not fly to the United States.