ATO upgrade to cost P1.6b

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Aviation authorities can upgrade facilities and ensure the industry’s compliance to international safety standards without having to impose additional taxes or fees on airlines.

Senate President Manuel Villar said the aviation office has been making money and its proposed successor is assured of P1.6 billion in programmed funds.

Villar said that Congress has approved the bill creating the Civil Aviation Authority, which will replace the Air Transportation Office. The bill allows the CAA to keep and spend its own income for its operations, instead of remitting this to the National Treasury.

“There are internally generated funds to bankroll any program that would allow the country to recoup its Category One rating from the [United States] Federal Aviation Administration,” Villar said.

“Clearly, ATO is not a losing entity that needs to be subsidized. It can fend for itself if only it is allowed to retain some of its income or if appropriations are near the level of its revenues.”

Apart from the P3.1-billion income from fees and charges, Villar said the new aviation body has P1.6 billion that is programmed to be spent for “air transportation” in the P22.3-billion budget of the Department of Transportation and Communications this year.

Meanwhile, Senators Loren Legarda and Mar Roxas said the dismissal of acting ATO chief Danilo Dimagiba signaled the start of the efforts to reverse the US FAA’s downgrade of the Philippine aviation industry.

“It’s not enough that heads rolled in the aftermath of the downgrade. The more important concern is what will be done by the government and industry players,” Legarda said.

She noted that Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza who was designated acting ATO chief in concurrent capacity, was given three months to take corrective measures leading to the upgrading of RP’s air safety rating.

Roxas said Dimagiba will be called to the Senate inquiry into the circumstances that led to the FAA downgrade.

In fact, we need Danilo Dimagiba to tell us what went wrong, what he did and could not do, and how decisions were made or indefinitely postponed. His dismissal from the service should have a result of a clear and transparent post-mortem process that would result in lessons learned and a time-bound roadmap to obtain and FAA upgrade,” he said.

He also welcomed the statement of Mendoza that his office will cooperate with the Senate inquiry.

Meanwhile, Isabela Rep. Rodito Albano III said the downgrading by US FAA of the country’s aviation security system is a “set-up.”

Albano assailed the US government for interfering in local affairs and urged the Arroyo administration to abrogate the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement, and forge closer alliance with China.

For his part, Makati City Rep. Teodoro Locsin said the FAA findings were deliberately made and announced in the media because the US government wants one of its airline companies to engage business in the country.

He said this could also be the reason why the US Embassy immediately discouraged their citizens to fly local airline companies like Philippine Airlines which has a direct flight to the US mainland.

House sources said Hawaiian Airlines wanted to operate direct flights from Hawaii to Manila and vice versa.

The same sources said the Hawaiian Airlines has hired the services of a law firm headed by a brother of a government official.

Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara and Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros said the FAA findings is a “wake up call” for civil aviation authorities to modernize their system but questioned the timing of the FAA’s announcement. “It is a wake up call for us,” Angara said.

“We have to self-assess and probably upgrade our civil aviation system, but the timing is curious,” Hontiveros said.