Mendoza takes over ATO

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — PRESIDENT Arroyo yesterday sacked Air Transportation Office officer-in-charge Daniel Dimagiba and named Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza concurrent head of the office, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said yesterday.

Dimagiba was fired after the US Federal Aviation Administration downgraded Philippine airline operations over safety concerns, a move that hurt Philippine Airlines and the country’s tourism industry.

The FAA’s concerns include outdated aviation regulations, poor training programs for safety inspectors, and sub-standard licensing for airframe and engine inspectors.

In a statement, Mendoza said the creation of a Civil Aviation Authority, through the passage of the Civil Aviation Act, would give air industry officials the system, structure and mandate to correct those deficiencies.

He added that the Philippines was one of the few members of the International Civil Aviation Organization where the regulator did not have independence and fiscal autonomy.

He also said low salaries—prescribed under wage laws that govern public agencies—made it difficult for the ATO to keep good air traffic controllers, check pilots and other technical personnel.

On Wednesday, House committee on transportation chairman Rep. Monico Puentebella blamed the ATO for failing to inform his committee of the urgency of the problem.

He added that he only learned of the FAA concerns when the President told him about them in November 2007.

Bunye said the President gave Mendoza a three-month deadline to take care of the problem.

This effort plus the passage of the Civil Aviation Act should correct any technical deficiencies, Bunye added.

On Wednesday, Puentebella expressed confidence that Congress would be able to pass the Civil Aviation Act, and that it could be signed into law by February. The bill is awaiting approval by the bicameral conference committee.

But Puentebella said the problem could have been avoided if air transport authorities had informed Congress of the problem years ago.

Senator Joker Arroyo, chairman of the finance sub-committee, said aviation officials did not ask for additional funding to upgrade facilities or safety standards when they submitted their budget request for 2008.

The senator said the Aviation Transportation Office asked for only P7.37 million or $180,000 under its 2007 budget for capital outlay and equipment.

For this year, it asked for and received P2.1 million or $572,000 for the same purpose.