Aviation downgrade hobbles PH tourism

By Recto Mercene, BusinessMirror

Posted at Mar 22 2012 08:14 AM | Updated as of Mar 22 2012 09:59 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The government is working double-time to ensure that the country’s aviation status is reverted to Category 1, enabling it to aggressively promote the tourism sector and reach a wider market.

Malacañang Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said on Wednesday the administration was concerned about effects of the Category 2 tacked by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on local aviation, particularly the tourism sector.

“We are always concerned, especially since we are promoting tourism as one of the growth sectors, and so we would like to harness also the markets in Europe,” Lacierda told a Malacañang press briefing.

He said the Philippines’s current aviation status prevents the country from fully promoting the tourism industry, thus the administration’s concern about accelerating the efforts to remove the Philippines from Category 2.

In a forum with Chinese businessmen last week, President Aquino said his administration was working double-time to secure Category 1 back with the FAA as well as removing the country from the European aviation blacklist.

Once these stumbling blocks are removed, according to the President, he expects the number of foreign tourists coming to the Philippines to increase. At present, the country has 4 million tourist arrivals, and Mr. Aquino said he hopes to see it rise to 10 million by 2016.

In a technical review conducted from January 23 to 27, FAA said there are 23 “critical elements” (CEs) that have to be addressed before the Philippines’s aviation status can be restored to Category 1.

Officials of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap) said the CEs identified are relatively minor issues that are being addressed nonetheless. These issues include fine-tuning Philippine civil air regulations; changing Caap’s safety and oversight structure, updating its database storing system and standardizing the authority’s certification of safety inspectors; and revalidating airline carriers.

The FAA downgraded the Philippines to Category 2 in 2007 after finding 88 significant safety concerns (SSCs).  Caap has addressed 65 of such concerns.?

The aviation authority said noted that Category 2 does not mean that Philippine carriers are banned from flying to the US, but added that the downgrade prevents new services to be added to the US route until all issues are resolved.

Meanwhile, Malacañang said also on Wednesday it would defer comments on reports that Japanese firm Takenaka Corp.’s completion of Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (Naia 3) will require the government to shell out millions more.

Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas II had disclosed to the media? that Takenaka’s completion of an unfinished portion of Naia 3 would cost the government about $40 million.

In a press briefing, Roxas said Takenaka’s cost for completing the terminal is now $40 million after negotiations that reduced the price from the original demand ranging from $60 million to $80 million. He, however, added that the $40 million has been deducted by the government from the claim of the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (Piatco) for just compensation.

Roxas had signed an agreement with Takenaka officials to finish the terminal during a trip to Tokyo two weeks ago.

Part of the agreement was the Civil Works Agreement (CWA) estimate of 23 systems, which covers the delivery of 23 airport systems critical to make Naia 3 fully operational.

The DOTC and Takenaka committed to execute the CWA within 30 days from the date of execution of the agreement.

The 23 airport systems include baggage handling and reconciliation system, flight information display system, building management system, local area network, fire alarm and protection system and passenger loading bridges.

In this connection, Cagayan Rep. Jack Enrile has urged the DOTC to stage a major launch to mark the start of the full commercial operation of the Naia 3, upon an international court’s “final and executory” ruling that favored the government in a long-running expropriation case.?

Enrile said also on Wednesday said starting Naia 3’s full commercial operations after ensuring that necessary repairs have been completed will signal to the international community that the Philippines is ready for business. He added that once fully operational, Naia 3 has the potential to greatly improve the country’s accessibility and to attract tourists as well as corporations with national and global ties.