The United States (US) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has upgraded the Philippines’ aviation safety to Category 1, opening the door for the country’s airlines to expand services to the US.
The FAA decision came after the European Union (EU) in July 2013 lifted its own ban on Philippine carriers after they upgraded their aviation safety standards.
The upgrade “cements a landmark era in the Philippine aviation sector. From one major achievement to another in a span of less than two years, the country has made great strides in enhancing its aviation industry to one that is at par with the best in the world,” Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said on Thursday.
It will have a significant impact on the country’s economy, boosting tourism, trade and business relations, Abaya added.
Carmelo Arcilla, executive director of the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), also on Thursday said the upgrade affirmed the resolve of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) to lift the country from Category 2 to which it had been demoted by the FAA in 2008.
In a statement, the CAAP said US Ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg visited CAAP Director General William Hotchkiss 3rd early on Thursday, telling him that the Philippines had been upgraded to Category 1 effective that day.
A letter dated April 9, 2014, from Margaret Gilligan, FAA associate administrator for aviation safety, confirming the upgrade was handed over by Goldberg to Hotchkiss.
In July last year, the EU announced that it was allowing flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) to resume flights to Europe after banning it for almost three years.
Also on Thursday, Ramon Ang, PAL president and chief operating officer, congratulated the CAAP for helping make the upgrade possible, saying it “will no doubt boost our country’s travel and tourism sectors and the economy in general.”
“With this upgrade, the Philippines now joins the ranks of important aviation nations in the world made up of 79 countries that meet US safety standards. [We are] definitely back on the global aviation map,” Ang said in a statement.
For PAL, Ang said the upgrade means that the flag carrier can now execute its plans to expand in the US, one of PAL’s biggest passenger markets.
With the upgrade, the flag-carrier said it would deploy six Boeing 777-300ERs costing a total of $1.2 billion for US flights within a month.
For its flights to Honolulu and Guam, PAL will continue to utilize new wide-body Airbus A330-300s and single-aisle A320-200s.
Malacañang also on Thursday welcomed the FAA upgrade, saying it will boost tourism and economic activity between the Philippines and the United States.
Deputy spokesman Abigail Valte hailed the DOTC and the CAAP “for the commitment and hard work they have demonstrated in rectifying the lapses and inaction of the past.”
The upgrade, Valte said, is “ a result of the can-do attitude that prevails in government and society today, an attitude that enables our agencies to continuously strive to ensure the safety and well-being of the wider public, as we all tread the straight path to greater progress and success.”
In a news conference, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. cited benefits from the FAA upgrade, including “greater access to US routes, use of more fuel-efficient planes and faster growth of the Philippine tourism and aviation sectors.”
The Department of Tourism (DOT) and Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) also welcomed the upgrade, saying the flight expansion will boost the department’s promotion efforts in the US, the Philippines’ second-largest source market.
The TCP said the upgrade, plus “the expected announcement coming from the European Union that Cebu Pacific will be allowed to fly to Europe,” will allow them to be competitive as a route in the Philippines and Asia.
The DOT said the FAA Category 1 status will help the country to operate in other cities in the United States and develop frequencies of existing routes.
“In 2013, 674,564 Americans visited the Philippines, ranking them as the second-biggest tourist arrivals.
From Europe, the United Kingdom was ranked eighth (122,759 arrivals) and Germany (70,949 arrivals).
A Category 1 rating means that a country complies with safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which had worked with the FAA on reviewing the Philippine case.
A Category 2 rating means that a country either lacks laws or regulations necessary to oversee air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards, or that its civil aviation authority—equivalent to the FAA for aviation safety matters—is deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, records-keeping or inspection procedures.
ICAO assesses civil aviation authorities of all countries with air carriers that operate or have applied to fly to the United States and makes that information available to the public.
Its assessments determine whether foreign civil aviation authorities are meeting ICAO safety standards, not FAA regulations.
In order to maintain a Category 1 rating, countries with air carriers that fly to the United States must adhere to the safety standards of ICAO, the United Nations’ technical agency for aviation that establishes international standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance.
Also on Thursday, Cebu Pacific exited the list of airlines banned from operating in EU member-countries.
The European Commission announced the lifting of the ban in a news conference at the CAAP.
Present were Dr. Julian Vassallo, Chargé d’ Affaires of the Delegation of the European Union.
“We welcome this development, a testament to Cebu Pacific’s commitment to safety and full compliance with international aviation safety standards. This would not have been possible without the full support of the Philippine government, and especially the CAAP,” said Lance Gokongwei, Cebu Pacific president and chief executive officer.
“This enables Cebu Pacific to continue flying to where the Filipinos are. With nearly a million Filipinos working in the EU, we look forward to offering [Cebu Pacific’s] trademark lowest fares, and the most extensive route network in the Philippines,” he added.
The low-cost carrier is eyeing flights to Europe.
“The decision of the European Commission to lift the ban on Cebu Pacific shows the ability of Philippine authorities and business to work with the EU to raise standards and create economic opportunity,” Vassallo said.
“Having demonstrated their commitment and capacity to adhere to international standards, we heartily welcome Cebu Pacific to European skies,” he added.
In July last year, EU allowed PAL to resume flights to Europe after banning it for almost three years.
With reports from Catherine S. Valente, Voltaire Palaña and Robertzon Ramirez