The CAAP blows it, again

Ben D. Kritz

Ben D. Kritz

By now most everyone has heard the disappointing news that the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will not be lifting the Philippines’ embarrassing Category 2 safety rating, meaning that the country’s air carriers will continue to be prevented from adding new flights to the US for the foreseeable future.

Although the official report will likely not be issued by the American authorities until sometime next month at the earliest, what has been revealed by information leaked from inside the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) and unofficially confirmed by a US source connected to the FAA, as well as the noteworthy absence of the CAAP’s typical bravado that follows a visit by foreign aviation inspectors is rather damning: Despite assurances from the CAAP that progress was being made, the details of the FAA team’s latest assessment indicate that virtually nothing has changed since the end of 2010, when the CAAP’s former chief Alfonso Cusi was forced out by the Aquino administration.

Cusi, who had been the general manager of the Manila International Airport Authority prior to his appointment to the CAAP, offended the regime by being an Arroyo appointee as well as by openly questioning the administration’s bypassing the CAAP’s staffing procedures to find jobs for Aquino favorites—procedures that had been put in place specifically to address some of the negative assessments by US and international auditors. At the time, the inconsistent approach to human resources had actually caused an expected audit by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to be postponed over concerns that the CAAP was being politicized.

Cusi’s resignation, which was handled in the typically childish way President Benigno Aquino 3rd has treated every technocrat he inherited from the Arroyo era, ironically helped to solve the “politicization” problem. Among knowledgeable people involved in the ratings downgrade issue for most or all of its six-plus years (and counting), the consensus is that Cusi was not a miracle worker by any means but was making slow, steady progress until he was subjected to the Aquino “antagonize him until he quits” method of human resources management by way of the then-head of the Department of Transportation and Communications, Ping de Jesus. Ironically, Cusi’s departure actually helped the CAAP; the Aquino administration stopped making things difficult for the agency once Cusi was replaced (after a couple more rounds of management musical chairs) with the politically appropriate tandem of William Hotchkiss and John Andrews.

But the political cost of having put the people he wanted (whether or not they were the people he actually needed) in place at the CAAP for Aquino is that he now owns the ratings upgrade problem; the CAAP is directly responsible for blowing yet another opportunity to have the restrictions lifted, but he is responsible for putting the CAAP together the way it is now. Or was—Deputy Director Andrews was due to return from sick leave on Monday (February 17), but there were already indications last week that his boss, Hotchkiss, had made up his mind (or had been instructed) not to wait to see if Andrews would make good on his own version of the hypothetical resignation act that has become fashionable among members of the Aquino administration.

For that matter, Hotchkiss should probably follow his understudy out the door. Both men are among the most experienced pilots the Philippines has ever had—Hotchkiss was one of the country’s outstanding military pilots, while Andrews has about 24,000 flight-hours of experience flying the Boeing 747—and both have some relevant managerial experience, Hotchkiss as a former commander of the Air Force, and Andrews as an executive with Cebu Pacific. But good resumes and aspirations are not substitutes for actually doing real work. “The problem is, for at least the last two years the FAA has been hearing, ‘We’ve got the right people in place,’ from the CAAP, but they’re not actually doing anything,” our US-based source said, echoing the comments widely reported in the local media from the as-yet unknown CAAP source of the FAA’s assessment.

“If anything, the evaluation this time was even worse than the last one,” the US source added.

The specific areas where the CAAP failed the latest examination are alarming. The FAA team found that essentially none of the CAAP’s Airmen Examination Board personnel are properly qualified “to prepare, administer and evaluate written theoretical examination[s]” for pilots; that the CAAP Airworthiness Technical Guide “does not contain complete policies, procedures and standards”; that the country still lacks some important Primary Aviation Legislation (which to be fair is not exactly CAAP’s fault); 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.

This latter shortcoming, according to the US source, most likely contributed to the “off-runway excursion” accident of a Cebu Pacific flight in Davao last July, and possibly also the crash of a SkyJet Airlines flight which overran the runway at Balesin Island and ended up in the surf (fortunately without serious harm to the passengers) last October.

Clearly, the government is not taking seriously the costs the continuing downgraded status is imposing on the country. The aviation safety assessment status may not be well-known or understood by the public outside the Philippines, but it is certainly well-known and understood by agencies that matter: Insurers; other countries’ aviation regulators; air industry and infrastructure investors; and tourism facilitators. The problem should not have been allowed to continue as long as it has, and it certainly cannot be allowed to continue any longer.


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  1. A layman’s comments:

    The main problems for the CAAP to handle can be categorized mainly on:
    1. Technical
    A R Samson described it very well in the above comments.
    2. Non Technical
    a. Any TDH (tom dick and harry ) are allowed to go in the terminals and I assume in the tarmac as well, as long as they know somebody influential ( politicians ? or admin ? people ). This is why there is a lot of not so desirable people offering to expedite checking in for a fee; lessening the travel tax fees, escorting people inside bypassing proper channels; etc.
    b. There is always a lot of traffic going in and out of the terminals because traffic rules re not followed; i.e. parking at slots longer than required to unload or off load pax.
    c. Security, both inside and outside the terminals.

  2. Mr. Samson, it is not the experience of the examiners the FAA is concerned but the competency. They may be an experienced Pilot or Flight Engineer but they lack the necessary skills and knowledge to create, design and facilitate exams.

    Isang dekada na ata itong problema na ito hindi pa rin tayo natuto. We can’t fault Gen. Hotchkiss and Capt Andrews for the mess that we are in, the problem is really hard. We need to think out of the box to solve the problem.

  3. Political appointment system may be problem. Why not hire “real” managers instead of technical people and operations people who can be the worst managers at times?

  4. Anent to my earlier post which did not register as the website went blank: All instrument approaches to any airport have their own standardized minima for safe landing, e.g.,ADF, VOR-ILS or PAR. Radar controlled approaches can bring the landing aircraft even with poor ceiling and visibility of 150 feet and a quarter mile vsby in rain or fog or smoke. The Davao accident involved rainy conditions and the fact that the aircraft came in overshot, while the Balesin accident was clearly pilot’s error due to unfamiliarity with shortfield landings in unfamiliar field. No Tom, Dick and Harry can ever write a pilot’s theoretical examination on the 157 airports and airfields contained in the AIP nor can they be tested on actual landing proficiency on each of these fields prior to getting an ATR. So, what is done during UPT is demonstration performance of short take offs and landings by a qualified and experienced flight instructor and the student is made to replicate the landing and takeoff techniques as recommended by the operations manual of type aircraft based on its gross loading and wind conditions. ATR licenses are granted on the basis of having performed satisfactorily the mandated operational procedures and safe landing techniques for type aircraft. The cited non-qualification of the Airman Board implies that they have not met a compulsory training and education requirements prescribed to perform as able members of the Board which is a hasty generalization. Even a cursory examination of the Syllabus of Instruction (SOI) undertaken by all students leading to the award of an aeronautical badge would give an idea of the breadth and depth of the knowledge that must be acquired and skills and abilities demonstrated by the student pilot trainee. The present team at the CAAP is the best that could be assembled to address the noted inadequacies and short comings. But it must begin with definition of the real problem, on the basis of a “cause and effect” and not on the basis of “leaked information” that is shorn of specificity even as certain personalities in the present composition of the cited Board might have earned the salacious reputation of not being a “Miracle Worker.” I agree with the opinion of Mr Kritz that unless noted discrepant items in the audit are addressed and resolved, PH aviation will continue to suffer and miss huge opportunities to contribute to progress and economic development goals of the nation.

  5. The type aircraft flight examiners also need up-date training on technical bulletins and operational up-dates on air traffic management and procedures; currency and re-currency requirements are not real issues against the present manning as they have a combined wealth of experience that far exceed any other set of experience required of those conducting periodic checks of proficiency of pilots and technicians. As to the matter of preparing or writing examination questionaires that will confirm the state of readiness of the airman to engage in active air operations of flying passengers, the present crop of examiners detailed with and manning the CAAP have undergone all of these requisites during their own Undergraduate Pilot Training for qualification as Military Aviators. Even the FAA in implementing its own written examinations in many of the specialty occupations in airline operations have their own shortcomings. US pilots still land at the wrong airports and even when checklists are mandatory, technicians every, now and then, still fail to ascertain exact conditions and serviceability of specific aircraft support systems. Didn’t the US suffer a stain to its reputation and a loss when a flight of top rated PGA golfers that included Payne Stewart when their aircraft lost its life support system during flight? Flying is a dangerous business and very unforgiving for mistakes. But it is 4 times safer than any other means of transportation. The motive behind this recent audit failure could be political in nature as the matter of professional technical training should have been included in the very first audit as this is an integral part of flying safety in air operations