US FAA team due this week for mini-audit

By Lawrence Agcaoili, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 19 2014 09:31 AM | Updated as of Jan 19 2014 05:31 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A team from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is set to arrive this week to assess the country’s compliance to international aviation safety standards, likely paving the way for an upgrade that would allow airlines from the Philippines to expand and mount additional flights to the US.

Capt. John Andrews, deputy director general of CAAP, said the US-FAA team would conduct a mini-audit on the Philippines after the team’s visit late last November was postponed.

“Yes there will be an audit. That is the only information we can give right now,” Andrews said in a text message.

Last year’s visit was supposed to be headed by US-FAA division manager for Flights Standards Service John Barbagallo and area manager for Asia Pacific James Spillane.

The US FAA downgraded the safety rating of CAAP in 2008 to Category 2 from Category 1 upon the recommendation of the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Category 2 indicates that the FAA had assessed that the Philippines’ civil aviation authority had failed to comply with ICAO safety standards for the oversight of air carrier operations. While in Category 2, Philippine air carriers are permitted to continue current operations to the US under heightened FAA surveillance.

Barbagallo was the “bearer” of bad news when the Philippines’ aviation safety rating was downgraded five years ago.

He pointed out that several teams from US-FAA have been visiting the Philippines over the last five months as part of the evaluation process of the country’s aviation safety standards.

Andrews earlier said the Philippines would get the much deserved aviation safety rating upgrade back to Category 1 from the US-FAA within the year, otherwise he would quit his job.

The CAAP official cited the decision of ICAO in February last year to lift the remaining aviation safety concerns, paving the way for the lifting of the ban imposed by the European Union in 2010 wherein airlines from the Philippines were barred from entering European airspace.

“I am confident that there are no more safety issues as far as we are concerned and this has been confirmed by no less than the EU and ICAO,” Andrews said earlier.

Once the Category 2 is upgraded to Category 1, flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) could use more fuel efficient aircraft to replace old aircraft being used to ply certain routes to the US.

Likewise, budget airline Cebu Air Inc. (Cebu Pacific) of taipan John Gokongwei is also looking at mounting flights to the US and Europe.

PAL is undergoing a major fleet modernization program involving the acquisition of 100 new aircraft and has placed a $10-billion order covering 65 new Airbus aircraft. Rival Cebu Pacific is in the midst of a $4-billion refleeting program covering the acquisition of 49 new aircraft.