MANILA, Philippines—After more than five years, local airlines may soon be allowed once again to fly to Europe and expand operations in the United States after the government successfully passed a safety audit by the world’s aviation regulatory body.
Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio “Jun” Aguinaldo Abaya said on Saturday that the findings of the one-week audit by the International Civil Aviation Organization were “positive.”
“The ICAO Coordinated Validation Mission (ICVM) team was satisfied with their observations/findings on the [Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines’s] efforts to comply with international safety standards,” Abaya said in a text message.
Passing the ICVM audit will likely pave the way for the lifting of ICAO’s “significant safety concern” tag on the Philippines given in 2010. Other countries cited with deficiencies in the 2010 report were Angola, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Djibouti, Kazakhstan, Guinea-Bissau, Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia.
The ICAO cited 89 points of concern in the country’s aviation regulatory framework that jeopardized the safety of airline passenger. Some of these concerns involved the registration of aviation companies and regulations covering the training of pilots and other industry personnel.
The ICAO audit was used by the European Union as basis for a ban on local airlines from mounting flights to any point within the economic block. The ban also meant that no Philippine carrier was allowed to even enter EU airspace.
Abaya said the ICVM’s findings would be forwarded to the ICAO’s headquarters in Canada. “They will recommend to the ICAO headquarters the lifting of the significant safety concern issued to the Philippines,” Abaya said.
In a statement, the DOTC said the ICVM team focused on two “critical elements” during the one-week audit. These were the OPS 1 Certification of Articles in the Philippines and Air/7 registration of Philippine-registered commercial aircraft.
Other areas covered were Legal Organization and Licensing, which were “satisfactorily addressed” last October, the DOTC said.
“We are confident that the ICAO will adopt/approve the recommendation,” he added. Abaya said the official lifting of the EU’s ban should come in two to three weeks.
In a previous interview, Abaya said the US Federal Aviation Administration could and should adopt the ICAOs findings and lift a similar ban on Philippine-registered airlines from expanding operations in the United States.
The Philippines was downgraded by the FAA to “category 2” status in 2007, barring airlines from expanding in the US. This also barred any new entry into the US market by any Philippine carrier.
The lifting of the bans will benefit two of the country’s largest airlines— Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific. Cebu Pacific, which will start flights longer than four hours using larger planes in October of this year, has announced plans to fly to Europe and the US. PAL, for its part, wants to expand operations in the US and resume flights to Europe.
Cebu Pacific expects the delivery of four leased Airbus A330 jets to arrive this year. The new planes will allow the company to mount long-haul flights to Europe, the US, the Middle East, and Australia.
PAL has a firm order for 64 jets also from Europe’s Airbus, 20 of which will also be Airbus A330s. The company also intends to purchase an additional 36 new planes also from Airbus or its rival, the US-based Boeing Co.
Officials from either carrier could not be reached for comment late Saturday afternoon.
The ICVM arrived in the Philippines last week after being invited by the CAAP, led by William Hotchkiss, who assumed his current post in July of last year.
The CAAP, however, said it was a bittersweet time for the agency, following the recent passing of Captain Francisco Juliano, vice-chairman of the CAAP Universal Safety Oversight Program.
The CAAP said Juliano was responsible for “marshalling efforts to address” the safety concerns cited by the EU. Juliano died in his office doing overtime work in preparation for the audit last February 16. His body was interred on February 23.