by Maria Sunantha Quibilan/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES — The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has downgraded the Philippines rating in international aviation safety after finding that it failed to comply with the minimum standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
The Philippines, which has dropped from a Category 1 to a Category 2 country, is among 21 countries listed by the FAA that failed to “provide safety oversight of its air carrier operators” in accordance with the ICAO standards.
Other countries with a Category 2 rating include Bangladesh, Belize, Bulgaria, Cote D’ Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), Gambia, Ghana, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Serbia and Montenegro (formerly Yugoslavia), Swaziland, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Zimbabwe.
The International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program of the FAA which assigns these two-category ratings “focuses on a country’s ability, not the individual air carrier, to adhere to international standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance established by the United Nation’s technical agency for aviation, the International Civil Aviation Organization.”
A Category 1 rating means that a country adheres to ICAO standards; Category 2 means failure to adhere.
The areas for technical assessment include a country’s airworthiness, maintenance, inspection, licensing and certification standards and practices, as well as the quality and level of training of civil aviation personnel in ensuring that all aircraft, airlines, pilots and other airmen operating in the country meet international standards.
During a safety inspection in July last year, the FAA found that the Philippines’ airworthiness was below ICAO standards and that civil aviation personnel lacked training. In addition, the country had no “no regulatory guidance” for airmen licensure examinations.
“The downgrading means the ATO (Air Transportation Office) has no sufficient qualified personnel and equipment. The FAA also cited that ATO regulations date back to [a law] passed in 1952, which is not updated,” said ATO officer-in-charge Danilo Dimagiba.
Also, according to former ATO director, Assistant Secretary Nilo Jatico, the downgrade came without surprise because of the nonexistence of a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), a financially independent agency that employs knowledgeable technical experts on aviation matters, which would guarantee the country’s compliance with the ICAO.
Jatico said that Congress has consistently failed to pass the Civil Aviation Authority Act that would have allowed for the creation of such an agency.
RP airports still safe
Meanwhile, Alfonso Cusi, General Manager of the Manila International Airport Authority, pointed out that the FAA downgrade does not apply to airport safety and security and therefore does not render Philippine airports unsafe.
“It’s not the airport (NAIA) that was found lacking, their security or other factors. It’s the aviation system,” Cusi said.
Additionally, Rebecca Thompson, spokesperson of the US Embassy in Manila, said that the FAA report is directed at the local civil aviation authority, not at the local carriers or the travelers who take the local carriers.
The rating would also not affect air travel between the Philippines and the US in general. However, Philippine Airlines, the only Philippine-licensed carrier with flights in the US, might have to deal with limitations, which include disallowance of expansion of operation or changes in services to the US and heightened FAA surveillance.
“PAL will be affected … they can no longer have additional flights to the US and whenever their plane lands in LA for instance, there will be an FAA inspection of the aircraft,” said Dimagiba.
On the upside, Dimagiba said that the ATO is rectifying the issue. “We have five ICAO experts here to assist the local boys to comply with pending requirements of the FAA,” he said on Monday afternoon. “We can [have the downgrade lifted] within the year,” he added.