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PH aviation upgrade by US agency delayed

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MANILA, Philippines—A widely expected Philippine aviation “upgrade” by the US Federal Aviation Administration would have to wait until early 2014, instead of the current year, due to a schedule issue, a government official here said.

John Andrews, deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), said in a text message Thursday that this was because an audit, viewed as the final assessment before an upgrade to a so-called category 1 status, would be held next year instead of December. He declined to elaborate.

This means local carriers too would have to wait longer before being allowed to expand in the United States. Currently, only flag carrier Philippine Airlines mounts flights to the US but Cebu Pacific Air, the country’s biggest budget carrier, said it was considering expansion there as well.

Andrews made the announcement as he said last week that FAA officials were flying into the country to conduct a mini-audit, which would likely be followed by an announcement of an upgrade.

The FAA downgraded the Philippines five years ago due to safety concerns.

“There are no more safety issues as far as we are concerned. This has been confirmed by no less than the EU [European Union] and Icao [International Civil Aviation Organization],” Andrews said last week.

The Philippines passed the Icao assessment early this year, which led to the lifting last July of a ban imposed by the European Union. This allowed Philippine Airlines to fly to points in Europe.

The restoration to category 1 status, from the current category 2, would allow carriers like PAL, the only domestic carrier with flights to the United States, to expand flights within that country. It also opens the door for other carriers to fly to the US.

The FAA move is also seen as beneficial for PAL as it can use newer and more efficient planes for its US routes. A condition of the downgrade to category 2 prevented the flag carrier from doing this. - Philippine Daily Inquirer

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