Pilot Error Blamed in Cebu Pacific Davao Runway Incident

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines finally released its ruling on the investigation of a Cebu Pacific Airbus A320 aircraft that ran off the runway at Davao International Airport in early June.

Copyright Photo: AFP/Getty Images
At a press conference held on June 25, CAAP Deputy Director General John Andrews reported that pilot error was to blame and the two Cebu Pacific pilots in command of that aircraft had been suspended. Captain Antonio Roehl Oropesa was suspended for six months while First Officer Edwin Perello faces a suspension of three months. In addition, Oropesa has been banned from serving as a Captain of any aircraft for a period of one year.

According to Andrews, after reviewing three critical factors, there was no doubt that it was pilot error. "We looked at 3 different factors in the investigation: man, machine, and environment. The plane was okay and the environment was given," Andrews said.

CAAP is blaming the accident solely on the pilots stating that the landing should have been aborted when the pilots realized that the aircraft was descending at the wrong angle. Captain Oropesa was negligent in that he mistook the right white line of the runway for the centre line upon descent from fifty to twenty feet. Data from the cockpit voice recorder also indicated that the Captain failed to turn left when his co-pilot advised him to do so.

Andrews believes that the pilot could have manoeuvred the aircraft for a safe landing had he employed the 'balked landing' technique whereby an aircraft temporarily touches down before taking off again. Andrews also cited regulations that prohibits aircraft from landing in zero visibility but in this incident, the pilots proceeded to land the aircraft amid heavy rains.

There has been no shortage of reports in the media and social media about passenger frustration with the poorly managed disembarkation from the aircraft. While Cebu Pacific insisted that the situation called for a precautionary disembarkation rather than an emergency disembarkation, the CAAP report suggested otherwise stating that both pilots failed to immediately evacuate the passengers placing everyone in a vulnerable position for an additional 15 minutes during which time the aircraft could have erupted into flames.


"In cases like this, you immediately initiate emergency evacuation. You don't know if the plane will explode or if the fuel lines were cut and there will be a fire," says Andrews. "They should have opened the emergency exits and evacuated passengers within 90 seconds."

The pilots were asked by authorities whether they would like to declare an emergency but the pilots replied "no" and simply asked assistance from fire officials at Davao airport.

Although Cebu Pacific will not be receiving any fines or penalties from the Civil Aviation Authority, it will be asked to comply with an action plan that emphasizes safety over cost-cutting measures. Andrews mentioned that shaving turnaround time between flights can lead to mistakes. The CAAP said that it would be monitoring the airline much more closely in the next months to ensure compliance of industry standards and safety procedures.

The Civil Aviation Authority wants to reassure the flying public that Cebu Pacific is a safe airline. However, they want to make it even safer. In spite of no fines being assessed to the airline, Andrews said that Cebu Pacific could still face charges regarding the damage and losses sustained at Davao Airport.

Cebu Pacific responded to the results of the report with a reply on its Facebook page stating that safety has always been the airline's highest priority and that they would be complying with all of the CAAP recommendations.

In addition to the CAAP recommendation, Cebu Pacific appointed the airline's Vice President of Flight Operations, Capt. Jim Sydiongco to oversee a number of internal measures including:
  • Enhancing the training curriculum to focus on go-arounds, wet-runway landing, landing during inclement weather and non-precision approaches.
  • Implementing an enhanced pilot training curriculum by Airbus trainers at the Philippine Academy for Aviation Training.
  • Participating in an independent review of flight operation systems and processes by an Airbus team of Safety, Flight Operations, and Human Factor exports which will be deployed to Manila.
In the midst of growing anger from passengers of that flight, Cebu Pacific stated that as it grows, it will continue to find ways to serve its passengers better. Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines is anxiously awaiting the lifting of bans on the country's airlines from flying to the European Union and expanding services in the United States, Japan, and Korea following a successful audit by the International Civil Aviation Organization.


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