Philippine Aviation Authorities Optimistic After FAA Visit

A VISIT by US regulators has left local aviation officials upbeat but also mum on how the process of securing a safety upgrade will go ahead.

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 "We are very optimistic," Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) Deputy Director General John C. Andrews yesterday said when asked about the outcome of discussions last week with US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials.

"They have accepted our position and we have accepted their position at the same time, so we have meeting of minds," Mr. Andrews added when pressed for details.

Asked if an agreement had been reached on the issue of a safety audit, he replied: "I will not discuss that at this point in time."

The May 2 and 3 meetings -- where Nicholas Reyes, manager of the FAA’s Western Pacific-Flight Standards Division, and James Spillane, a senior FAA representative, were briefed on the country’s compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards -- were among others supposed to determine if an audit was necessary for the country to regain Category 1 status.

The CAAP’s position is that a review is not needed as the ICAO -- of which the Philippines and the US are both members -- no longer tags the country as a "significant safety concern."

The FAA in 2008 downgraded the Philippines to Category 2 following a November 2007 audit, which found that the country was not compliant with ICAO standards. As a result, local airlines were barred from expanding operations in the US. The FAA move prompted the ICAO to issue its safety warning in 2009, which subsequently led the European Union’s blacklisting of local carriers.

Aviation officials moved to address issues identified by the foreign regulators and last March the ICAO removed the Philippines from its list of countries with safety concerns. CAAP officials have since raised the possibility of the lifting of the EU ban and a return to Category 1 status.

CAAP officials met with EU transportation officials in Brussels last month and Director-General William K. Hotchkiss III described the meeting as "positive." EU transportation officials will be in town from June 3-7 to validate the CAAP’s presentation.

The FAA, which was not immediately available for comment regarding last week’s visit, previously said the Philippines may now "request for reassessment" following the ICAO move. An FAA technical review last January found that majority of the faults noted in the 2007 audit had been addressed, the CAAP has said.

Local airlines, particularly Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines, are looking forward to the country’s securing an air safety upgrade as they are looking to expand in the US and Europe.
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