Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) Deputy Director General John Andrews must really be regretting his boast that he would resign his position if the Philippines’ Category 1 status under the US Federal Aviation Administration’s International Aviation Safety Assessments (IASA) Program was not restored.
We at least hope that is the reason behind his recent detached-from-reality announcement to the staff of the CAAP that they would be given double salary bonuses this month, because “We will be back to Category 1 status in March,” according to a Business Mirror report quoting Andrews as telling his colleagues at one of the agency’s recent Monday-morning flag-raising ceremonies. The other possible explanation—that the cheese has fallen out of Andrews’ sandwich, so to speak—is too discouraging to think about, really, and would signify the regrettable end to a respectable career for one of the country’s most experienced airmen.
According to the Business Mirror report on February 26, a confidential meeting was held among top officials of the CAAP, wherein Andrews claimed that Category 1 status had already been restored because of the P1.316 billion purchase of 41 new aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicles from the Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Corp. Andrews is reported to have said, “Napadali dahil sa pagbili natin ng fire trucks sa America (The upgrade was made earlier because we bought the fire trucks from America).” Supposedly, the public notice of the status upgrade is being withheld until next month, so that it can be announced during US President Barrack Obama’s scheduled visit to the Philippines.
The story is disturbing on a number of counts. First of all, Andrews’ claim in the closed-door meeting at the CAAP that Category 1 status had already been restored was completely false; as recently as February 18 (mere days before that confidential meeting was to have taken place), sources within the CAAP and the US confirmed that the FAA had denied the status upgrade, citing a number of serious lingering issues affecting the agency’s oversight and certification responsibilities (see my Feb. 18 column, “The CAAP blows it, again”). And in case Deputy Director Andrews would wish to dispute the point, the FAA is very transparent with its IASA information. Details of the program, including the current flight safety category status of the 95 or so countries monitored by the FAA (updated weekly), are available at the agency’s website at http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/iasa/.
And from checking those records, which can be accessed by anyone with an Internet connection, we find that Deputy Director Andrews’ boast to his staff that the Category 1 status would be restored in March—which was not what he reportedly said in the CAAP executive meeting—is, at least so far, not true either. As of the latest update from the FAA website (dated March 7), the Philippines remains one of the 11 countries under Category 2 status.
It is conceivable, although not at all likely, that the FAA may yet upgrade the country’s status in what remains of March, but the reason Andrews gave in the CAAP meeting for this is completely nonsensical, and worse still, seems to imply that the CAAP offered—let’s not call it a “bribe,” let’s say quid pro quo instead—a kind of inducement benefiting an American company in exchange for the category upgrade. What makes it a real head-scratcher, though, is that fire-fighting and rescue equipment was not mentioned at all among the issues detailed by the FAA in the summary assessment that leaked out last month.
The issues that were noted included a near-total absence of qualifications among CAAP’s Airmen Examination Board “to prepare, administer and evaluate written theoretical examination[s]”; that the CAAP Airworthiness Technical Guide “does not contain complete policies, procedures and standards”; that the country still lacks some important Primary Aviation Legislation; and that the CAAP has not complied with a provision of international air traffic management standards relating to “approach ban provisions,” which are rules that govern when an aircraft can land safely.
Not only are they problems that cannot be magically overcome within a matter of weeks; what Deputy Director Andrews is reported to have said is actually a very dangerous accusation that could earn the CAAP and the Philippine government serious legal trouble.
In essence, Andrews has claimed the FAA is willing to overlook basic safety benchmarks in exchange for an unrelated equipment purchase to a private company.
When asked if such an arrangement was even hypothetically possible, our US source—an established international training, regulatory, and safety consultancy that works closely with the FAA—found the suggestion amusing. “If the IASA was under Congressional oversight in any way, I’d say there’s an outside possibility. You know how it is:
Congressman So-and-So says, ‘Give a contract to a company in my district, and I’ll make sure your application is approved by my committee.’ But IASA is strictly a line-agency program. If it even comes to the attention of Congress at all, it’s only as a budget line item once a year. And then Congress just signs off on it without comment, because it’s a good program that should be kept up,” the source explained.
In the process of desperately trying to apply wishful thinking to make a seven-year embarrassment go away and see Philippine air carriers welcome to expand their business in the US again, Andrews has—apparently—misled his staff and management colleagues and impugned the integrity of the Federal Aviation Administration.
While the purchase of new rescue equipment—while a little on the expensive side—is probably useful, it does nothing more than highlight the painful problem with the CAAP’s approach to the nagging FAA downgrade issue: Rather than do the hard work to address the shortcomings auditors have repeatedly and in excruciating detail explained to the CAAP, the agency stubbornly persists in trying to change everyone’s mind with window-dressing and boastful remarks. It hasn’t worked yet, and certainly won’t work now that Andrews may very well have destroyed much of the goodwill of not only the agencies he needs to impress, but his own people as well.