Members of the Philippine aviation industry rejoiced as the news was announced that the European Union has decided to offer a partial lifting of the ban on flights to European countries by Philippine carriers.
The news was announced as a "partial lifting" as Philippine Airlines will be the only Philippine carrier permitted to serve Europe while a ban remains in place on other Philippine carriers. The EU Ambassador was on hand for the formal announcement along with Ramon Ang, CEO of Philippine Airlines, and Director General William Hotchkiss from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines. The announcement creates an opportunity for direct flights to Europe to be restored as early as September or October.
"Today the European Union has decided to lift the air ban for Philippine Airlines. The decision will be effective starting Friday, July 12, 2013," said Ledoux. "This decision is very encouraging and is a first success for both CAAP and Philippines Airlines." The ambassador highlighted that the ban was lifted as a result of the improved oversight in safety measures by the Civil Aviation Authority as well as Philippine Airlines' on-going effective compliance with relevant international aviation safety regulations which was demonstrated during an on-site safety assessment conducted by European officials in June.
"The European Commission and the Air Safety Committee are encouraged by the actions being taken by CAAP and Philippine carriers to address outstanding safety issues and will continue to closely monitor the situation in view of conducting further reviews, including other Philippine carriers," said Ledoux. According to the ambassador, more work is required in order to reach effective compliance with relevant aviation safety standards before the ban can be lifted on other Philippine carriers.
Nobody could be more pleased with the news than Ramon Ang who said that the airline intends to follow through on its plans of establishing direct flights from Manila to Europe. Paris, London, Rome, and Amsterdam will be the first destinations along with a number of other popular European destinations to be announced at a later date. The recent purchase of long range aircraft puts Philippine Airlines in a very capable position of offering direct flights to Europe in the immediate future.
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
"I think we are entitled to seven flights a week to London, six or seven times per week to Paris, and we will have to review our agreement with other countries," said Ang. "The first flights to Europe could begin in September or October."
Philippine carriers have been on the European blacklist and banned from flying to any member countries in Europe since 2010. The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines under the leadership of Hotchkiss and direction of President Aquino have been working hard since 2012 to begin corrective action to have the ban lifted. The Philippines still remains in Category 2 status preventing the launch of any new services to the United States by any Philippine carrier and the ability to expand any of the existing services offered by Philippine Airlines. The Philippine government is hopeful that the US Federal Aviation Authority will reinstate the country to Category 1 status within the year.
The aviation bans were originally implemented following an announcement by the International Civil Aviation Organization that it had found "significant safety concerns" in the country's aviation standards. An ICAO audit undertaken in February 2013 found that the local aviation authority had taken sufficient corrective actions to satisfy international standards and the country was removed off the list of nations with "significant safety concerns." Since February, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines continues to work hard to have the bans and restrictions imposed by various countries removed in order to facilitate a growth in air traffic accompanied by an increase in tourism and business exchanges.
Philippine Airlines had previously announced that it was considering leasing out its newly acquired Boeing 777 aircraft as they were originally ordered prior to the bans for service to the United States and Europe. But given the restrictions imposed on the country, the airline was unable to operate the aircraft feasibly on any existing routes. With the recent announcement, it is quite likely the plans to lease out the aircraft will not follow through as they will be deployed on routes to Europe in addition to recently acquired A340 aircraft from Iberia. Ramon Ang has stated that the airline is still considering a purchase of additional long haul aircraft as part of an airline wide refleeting program. The airline is rumoured to be considering the Boeing 777X, Boeing 787, and Airbus A350. The announcement from Europe paves the way to consider following through on a major purchase as aircraft will be needed as part of the ongoing expansion. A pending positive announcement from the United States will only enhance that need suggesting that Philippine Airlines may be announcing a decision and placing an order in the near future.
Cebu Pacific has not been included in the lifting of the ban. The Civil Aviation Authority asked the airline to withdraw its application in light of the incident in Davao last month. CAAP has advised that Cebu Pacific is welcome to reapply in approximately six months time. The EU Ambassador noted that the European Union may invite Cebu Pacific to present evidence that it has successfully implemented international safety standards before the overall ban is lifted. "In the case of Cebu Pacific, the EU noted the improvement in the implementation of safety measures, but indicated that a recent accident shows some weakness that needs to be addressed," said Ledoux. "We are encouraged by the action taken by Cebu Pacific in addressing the safety issues and we will continue to monitor the situation."
In a statement released from Brussels, the European Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas highlighted the ability of countries to be removed from the blacklist. "Countries and airlines can be removed from the list if they show real commitment and capacity to implement international safety standards in a sustainable manner," said Kallas.
Following the announcement, Ramon Ang stated, "This welcome development signals the westward expansion of our international route network." Philippine Airlines released the following statement in response to the news on its Facebook site.