Lifting of US restrictions on PH airlines seen
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) remains confident that US aviation regulators will lift restrictions imposed on local carriers by the fourth quarter of 2013, but concerns over the sustainability of recent reforms linger.
Key “showstoppers” include the difficulty in amending the law that would grant added autonomy to CAAP while overcoming restrictions that prevent CAAP from spending for the continuous training of safety inspectors, CAAP director general William Hotchkiss III said at a forum on Friday.
Hotchkiss said a team of US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspectors was in the country and “all indications are positive towards a possible upgrade before the end of the year” and possibly as early as October.
“Remaining hurdles will have to address the sustainability issue,” Hotchkiss said on the sidelines of the country’s first aviation safety and good corporate governance forum.
This was the second time the FAA sent a team after the US regulator and CAAP signed a technical assistance program last June 4, which calls for a two-year monitoring period.
This means that if reforms are not in line with what have been agreed upon, the FAA could return the Philippines to Category 2 status, again preventing local carriers from expanding flights in the United States.
Only flag carrier Philippine Airlines mounts flights to the US, however, its ability to expand there is limited by current restrictions.
CAAP has been calling for an amendment to Republic Act 9497 to include provisions that would authorize the government to transfer its so-called state of registry obligations to the state of the operator as well as to create a separate agency to handle aircraft accident investigations.
“Although multiple bills to establish a National Transportation Safety Board have been proposed in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, none have received priority or passage,” Hotchkiss said in his speech before industry stakeholders.
As noted, another key hurdle involved the continuous training of safety inspectors.
“CAAP has the necessary funds to support the recurrent training,” Hotchkiss said. “However, government accounting rules disallow release of funds for training of contractual employees who make up the majority of our experienced inspector corps.”
Reforms by CAAP have helped remove the Philippines from a European Union blacklist on July 12. But it still faces several challenges, said Mokhtar Awan, Asia Pacific regional director of International Civil Aviation Organization, during the same forum.
He cited CAAP’s difficulties in hiring and keeping qualified technical personnel, its modernization, and even “negative” media reporting. On the autonomy issue, he said that CAAP “is still in transition.”
“Safety oversight is a state’s responsibility. However, this cannot be achieved solely by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines without the political support from the government of the Philippines,” Awan said.
The EU ban had been in place since 2010, a year after the Icao found “significant safety concerns” in the country’s aviation standards. The Philippines passed the Icao audit in February, and this led to the lifting of the ban on Philippine Airlines last month.
The FAA downgrade, meanwhile, was imposed in 2008.