Fil-Am travel agents react to new FAA rating for PH
• Hopeful that rating will lead to better options, more convenience for US travelers from the East Coast
• New security rating allows Philippine carriers to expand flight routes and partner with US carriers
WASHINGTON, DC — Filipino travel agents are hopeful that with the recently restored FAA Category 1 rating for the Philippines, more direct flights will be available from the East Coast to give frequent flyers the conveniences they are looking for.
“I hope with this positive development, Philippine Airlines will expand their route to the East Coast specifically here in our region,” said Helen Viray of KY Fare Travel and Tours.
For Travel Outlet Vice President Naomi Estaris, it’s all about giving her clients more options.
“For us that is a good thing that we will now have foreign carriers like the Philippine air carrier to be able to come in domestically where before, our clients want a foreign carrier but it wasn’t an option for them,” Estaris said.
“Now that they are Category 1 again it will be very helpful and it gives more options for clients who are looking for foreign carriers,” Estaris explained. “They want better equipment, better customer service and better food. With foreign carriers the customer service is outstanding especially with the Asian carriers, there is a big difference.”
Down in Category 2
For the last six years, the Philippines was in Category 2 for failing to meet international aviation safety standards. In January 2008, upon the recommendation of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which found “significant concerns” over Philippine aviation authorities’ ability to meet international safety standards, the FAA lowered the country’s safety rating to Category 2.
A category 2 rating means a country either lacks laws or regulations necessary to oversee air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards, or that its civil aviation authority is deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record-keeping or inspection procedures.
As a result of the downgrade, local carriers such as Philippine Airlines were barred from expanding their routes in the U.S. as well as in taking part in reciprocal code-share arrangements with American carriers.
Many travel agents, however, also say that the Philippines being downgraded to Category 2 hardly affected their business.
“Filipinos never really stopped traveling to the homeland just because of that rating,” said Carl Abella, president of Alpha Travel Services. “It never bothered people, not once in those six years did one passenger mention that they are not going home because of the rating.”
Viray agreed, adding that “as a travel agent I have had no problem with ratings whether we are number 1 or number 2.”
Abella admitted that although the FAA announcement is a positive thing for the Philippines, the airline industry is more focused on meeting the standards of the International Airline Transport Association (IATA).
“(As an IATA member) you have to comply with the international criteria for maintenance, pilots, crews and others. Otherwise, they will not only be downgraded but they will be taken off IATA list,” the Maryland-based Abella explained.
Although FAA and IATA work closely especially on safety standards, Abella said, “IATA is more international — the main body of all the airlines. All airlines including Philippine Airlines are members and if an airline is not, (that means) it is non-compliant,” he said further.
“With IATA they have people all the time going all over (the world) checking all those maintenance sheets, making sure they are at par. Otherwise, they will be taken out of the list,” he added.
The good news
The FAA decided to restore the Philippines’ Category 1 rating based on the recommendations from the International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) report in March.
The restoration of the Category 1 rating will enable Philippine carriers like Philippine Airlines to initiate or expand flight routes or continue service within the U.S. and enter into code-sharing arrangements with American air carriers.
Estaris, whose business is based in Virginia Beach, suggested several possible routes that Philippine Airlines could look into to service the East Coast.
“We are hoping that soon we will see more options in the East Coast with Washington D.C., New Jersey and New York and even Florida.”
She added, “I’m glad that we will able to give options and I’m hoping that they move quickly to prove that they are a better carrier. If you have a direct flight with the same carrier you have that baggage going all the way through. It’s more convenient especially for elder clients. It makes travel much more pleasurable and that’s what we want them to have.”
Perhaps more importantly, regaining the Category 1 rating will be a boost to the Philippine economy. In a press statement, Ambassador Jose Cuisia said, “This means opening up more routes for business and tourism travel between the Philippines and the U.S., as well as creating more opportunities for Philippine and American businesses.”
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