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Gov’t decrees longer turnaround time for aircraft on the ground

By: Miguel R. Camus, August 13th, 2013 04:52 AM

Air Asia Philippines CEO Marianne Hontiveros: Turnaround time of 25 minutes is not only achievable but has no negative bearing on safety.

MANILA, Philippines—The country’s air safety regulator has formalized a policy requiring all carriers with domestic operations to follow longer scheduled ground times—a move budget airlines claim would be disadvantageous to their business.

A memorandum circular posted on the website of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said the regulator was pursuing a 40-minute scheduled ground time, also called turnaround time, for local flights beginning Oct. 1 but with certain conditions.

The document dated Aug. 6, however, said the turnaround policy for domestic operations would exclude Manila, Clark and Mactan, which are home bases.

The memorandum would also apply only to Airbus A319 and A320 planes, which comprise the bulk of the fleets of the affected carriers, which include Philippine Airlines (PAL), Cebu Pacific Air, Air Asia Philippines, Tiger Airways Philippines and Zest Air.

Safer, more efficient

The CAAP said the move was meant to “promote safer and more efficient operations.”

Longer ground time, for example, would give pilots more time to rest between flights, CAAP Director General William Hotchkiss III had said.

“All airlines shall submit approval for winter schedules to the CAB [Civil Aeronautics Board] with the appropriate 40 minutes ground time,” the CAAP said in its memorandum. “Failure to comply will be cause for [CAB] to disallow such request.”

Budget carriers earlier warned their ticket prices could go up, given the added costs associated with staying on the ground longer, but CAAP Deputy Director General John Andrews downplayed this, saying that ticket prices are ultimately determined by market forces.

Cebu Pacific and Air Asia Philippines have a turnaround policy of 30 minutes and 25 minutes, respectively. PAL has a turnaround policy of 45 minutes, its senior vice president for operations Ismael Augusto Gozon said.

For their part, Air Asia Philippines CEO Marianne Hontiveros said her company submitted an “extensive” position paper to the CAAP on Thursday.

“We want to prove that the turnaround time of 25 minutes is not only achievable but has no negative bearing on safety,” said Hontiveros in a phone interview on Monday.

Gozon said PAL was prepared to comply with the CAAP ruling. Spokespersons for Cebu Pacific and Zest Air did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The increased scrutiny in scheduled ground time was triggered by a June 2 landing accident involving a Cebu Pacific plane at the Davao International Airport.

None of the people on the plane was hurt but airport operations ground to a halt for two days. Investigators later determined that pilot error was behind the incident.

Common implementation

The CAAP had earlier planned to impose a longer scheduled ground time on Cebu Pacific in the middle of July but the budget carrier asked for a two-week extension to Aug. 1 to allow it to adjust its schedules and minimize any inconvenience to passengers.

The regulator then decided to postpone the Aug. 1 implementation, saying that as many as 7,000 Cebu Pacific passengers would be affected daily. It decided on the common implementation on Oct. 1 as this would give airline operators ample time to prepare to follow the new policy.

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