Airport accident could affect Philippines’ aviation status

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Workers use a crane to remove a Cebu Pacific Airbus A320 plane from the grassy part of the runway of the Davao International Airport. The incident halted dozens of flights and affected thousands of passengers. AFP PHOTO

Talk about bad timing.

The accident at the Davao International Airport (DIA) occurred while European Union officials are assessing the country’s aviation safety measures.

Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya admitted that the Davao incident may affect the Philippine’s bid to regain the Category 1 status.

Abaya said EU representatives are in the country for a safety audit and will most likely take the incident into consideration when they submit their report.

The Philippines was downgraded to a Category 2 status in 2007 upon the recommendation of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The downgrade has prevented the Philippines from adding routes to the United States and Europe.

“Sa katunayan, yung EU team ay nandito ngayon. Dumating noong Lunes at aalis ng Biyernes. Maling timing. Maganda na rin na makita yan para makita natin ang honest facts of the status of our airlines. Siguro makakaapekto, pero ito naman ay nangyayari din sa ibang bansa. Hindi naman fatal. Ang mahalaga dito kung yun procedure ba ay nasusundan (The EU team arrived on Monday and will leave Friday. The accident is bad timing. Perhaps it will affect (the country’s status) but this also happens in other countries),” Abaya said in a radio interview.

However, Malacañang expressed confidence that the mishap will not hurt the country’s bid for an aviation upgrade.

Presidential Communications Secretary Ramon Carandang said the incident does not reflect the Philippine aviation safety status.

“What happened in Cebu Pacific is not systemic. The steps that were recommended for us to be taken off of Category 2 are being taken by our airport authorities and this should not be a reflection of that,” he added

The Philippines is expecting aviation safety upgrades from the EU and the United States before the end of the year.

Philippine carriers, including Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific, are keen on the safety rating upgrade so they could mount additional flights to the US.

The audit results of ICAO—a United Nations agency that oversees international civil aviation—are the basis of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in deciding whether to keep or lift the Category 2 status imposed on the Philippines.

The FAA downgraded the country’s safety rating in 2009 because of its failure to implement global safety standards. The EU blacklisted the Philippines in 2010.

Normal
Operations at the DIA returned to normal late yesterday after Cebu Pacific (CEB) removed its A-320 plane that overshot the runway late Sunday, shutting down the airport.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) gave Cebu Pacific until 3 p.m. yesterday to remove its aircraft stuck at runway 23. The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) also decided yesterday to send a three-man team to clear the runway so that flights could return to normal.

MIAA said the team was part of the contingent sent to Tacloban City in 2007 to assist in the recovery operations of a Philippine Airlines plane that overshot the Tacloban airport’s runway.

However, the aircraft was towed even before the MIAA team could reach Davao.

As of 3 p.m. on Tuesday, at least 35 flights from Philippine Airlines (PAL), CEB, Zest Air and SeAir were cancelled in view of the temporary closure of the DIA.

Cebu Pacific also had to cancel 19 flights to and from Davao yesterday. It arranged 15 extra roundtrip flights to General Santos from Manila, Cebu, Zamboanga and Kalibo to accommodate affected passengers.

“We are contacting guests on their re-accommodation, and are providing transfer between General Santos and Davao, as well as meals and hotel accommodations, as necessary. Rest assured that we’re doing our best to assist all passengers, and facilitate the removal of the runway obstruction,” the CEB said.

In its latest advisory, the company said it continues to work with CAAP’s accident investigation unit to determine the cause of the accident.

Cebu Pacific flew in a team of engineering and maintenance experts from Singapore Airlines to extract the aircraft from the runway. A team from Airbus also went to Davao to assist in the towing of the aircraft.

Concerns
Meanwhile, Malacañang said Cebu Pacific should take action on the legitimate complaint of passengers affected by the mishap.

“We understand the concerns of the public and we share those concerns. You’ve seen the reports from the passengers and let’s let Cebu Pacific deal with it and explain to the passengers,” Carandang said.

The Palace official said aviation officials will have to wait for the result of an investigation before deciding whether or not to slap sanctions against Cebu Pacific.

“We don’t know if it’s pilot error, which is what we’re hearing, and at this point it’s not helpful to speculate until we know what the facts are,” he said. “Once the facts have been determined and put in place, then we can recommend or we can determine what proper course of action will be.”

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