MANILA, Philippines - Aviation authorities are under fire for their failure to buy the necessary replacement for the upgrading of the decrepit navigational and landing aid called VOR (very high frequency, omni-directional range) and distance measuring equipment (DME). This apparent lapse resulted in the Philippines being retained by the International Civil Aviation Organization (Icao) in Category 2 over “significant safety concerns” or SSCs.
The VOR-DME breakdown occurred at a time when an “Icao Coordinated Validation Mission” was subjecting the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap) to a 10-day evaluation.
Airport sources are saying the Caap flunked the review, the second since the country was downgraded by the Icao, from Category 1 status to Category 2 in 2007, because of this and other factors.
But more knowledgeable insiders are saying the Caap’s botched performance was not on account of the aged VOR-DME but rather because of an apparent confusion within the agency, bugged by frequent changes of leadership in the last five years.
When the government abolished the then-Air Transportation Office (Ato) and replaced it with the current Caap through an act of Congress, the aim was to foster stability by appointing a director general with a fixed term of six years, and whose stay at the aviation authority would continue even after the appointing power ended its term.
When a group of aviation experts from the European Union visited the Caap for a review, the team leader told then-Director General Alfonso Cusi, “I hope that you will be the same man we will talk to when we come back.”
That Cusi had been replaced twice since then, is a testament to the Caap’s instability, according to the airport insiders.
Before Cusi, there were two directors general appointed by President Aquino—former Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza, acting as officer in charge, and a former Armed Forces official, Ruben Ciron.
After him came a former Air Force official, Ramon Gutierrez, and the latest, retired Air Force chief William K. Hotchkiss III.
Flag carrier Philippine Airlines had hoped that the country’s aviation industry would revert to Category 1 status so that its newly purchased B777 would be able to fly to new routes in the United States and Europe.
Cebu Pacific had delayed its plan to fly to the US due to the downgrade.
In this connection, the upgrading of the decrepit VOR and the DME has been approved by the Manila International Airport Authority (Miaa) but it would not be operational until about four months from now.
Once tested and calibrated, the equipment technically called DVOR, (since the DME and the VOR would be located in the same spot), would be turned over by the Miaa to the Caap.
By mutual agreement, the Miaa has jurisdiction over all so-called horizontal infrastructure at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia), such as the runways, taxiways, runway lights and ramp areas. The Caap maintains the radar, VOR, DME, non-directional beacon, instrument landing system and related equipment.
The Miaa had come under criticisms these past few years for not being able to maintain the DVOR, which should be under the Caap’s jurisdiction. The aviation authority, however, reportedly has insufficient funds, thus forcing the Miaa to provide the money for the upgrade, estimated at between P80 million and P120 million (not between P80,000 and P120,000 as we reported on Thursday).
The current DVOR has a shelf life of 10 years, but it has been operating for an estimated 15 years, which explains the frequent breakdown.
Through a memorandum of agreement, the Miaa funded the upgrading of the DVOR.
But a new twist has developed.
Sources informed the BusinessMirror that the Caap plans to buy a new VOR, which would not be on stream until about 14 months from now.
If the plan pushed through, the Miaa would have two DVORs, which would make people wonder why an extra one is needed and at considerable expense.
In this connection, Europe is interested in developing an air-safety agreement with the Philippines once the European Union (EU) ban on Philippine air carriers is lifted, according to Vice President Jejomar C. Binay.
Fresh from a 15-day visit to Belgium, Luxemburg, the Vatican and Israel, the Vice President said he had a chance to meet with European Commission (EC) Vice President and Commissioner for Transport Siik Kallas during the seventh European Development Days (EDD) in Brussels to discuss the current EU ban on the country’s airlines.
Binay said that according to Kallas, the EU’s main issue with the Philippines was “maintaining the professionalism and regularity of air-safety inspections.”
“I informed the commissioner that the Philippines had sought technical assistance from the French government to improve air-safety standards, and that Philippine Airlines, which is now under new management, had just ordered 54 Airbus aircraft in line with its refleeting program,” the Vice President added.
Binay said he assured the commissioner that the Philippine government was taking the issue of the air-carrier ban seriously and was already in the process of instituting critical reforms to improve the country’s air-safety standards.
“I even mentioned the fact that the Philippines would be receiving an Icao-Coordinated Validation Mission from October 24 to 28 to assess the improvements made thus far,” he added.
Binay clarified that the ban applied to both EU and non-EU carriers.
“The commissioner said these bans were not meant to discriminate against non-EU carriers since European carriers were not immune from the same bans if they failed to meet the EU’s strict air-safety standards,” the Vice President said.
The EC banned Philippine carriers from operating in all 27 member-states of the EU in 2010.
According to Philippine Airlines, the ban was caused by the United States Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) decision in January 2008 downgrading the Philippines’s safety rating to Category 2 and “significant safety concern” findings by the Icao in November 2009 against Philippine aviation safety regulators.
There have been no commercial flights by Philippine-registered carriers to Europe since 1999.