Wednesday, November 24, 2010



Philippine aviation audit postponed due to ‘operational concerns’

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines' efforts to be removed from the blacklist of countries deemed to have unsafe aviation suffered a blow after the International Civil Aviation Organization (Icao) postponed its December audit due to “operational concerns.”

In a November 9 letter, Icao informed the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) that the December 7-10 Icao Coordinated Validation Mission (ICVM) would have to be moved to another date.

“...I would like to inform you that due to operational concerns, we will need to postpone the ICVM. We will endeavor to work with you to re-schedule the mission for mutually agreed upon dates,” said Henri Gourdji, chief of Icao's Continuous Monitoring and Oversight Section.

CAAP said such “operational concerns,” when clarified in a teleconference with Icao officers on November 17, “relate to the insecurity of Icao in the sustainability of the present reforms being undertaken by CAAP.”

“The present unclear political announcements of a change in senior management could create, in Icao’s opinion, an indeterminable future of professional processes within CAAP,” the Icao officers were quoted as saying in the teleconference.

CAAP director general Alfonso Cusi said this referred to the questioned appointment of seven key officials to the agency without going through civil service regulations and without Cusi's approval.

The seven officers were appointed by the Department of Transportation and Communication (DoTC) based on a “desire letter” by President Aquino. The DoTC also wanted to replace Cusi, an appointee under the Arroyo administration, but could not do so, as he had a fixed term that would lapse until 2014.

Cusi had raised fears that that the appointment of senior management officials at CAAP under such questionable circumstances could adversely affect the Philippine's efforts to be removed from US and European blacklists, paving the way for local carriers to add flights to America and to return to Europe.

DoTC officials, on the other hand, defended the agency's move, saying the appointees were experts in the aviation industry and their appointments were in line with changes needed to reform the sector.

In a phone interview, Cusi said that during the teleconference, the Icao officers, whom he did not name, raised concerns about the “lack of continuity” within the CAAP management.

“They were concerned that if they visited us, they would be talking to a different set of people. We have to fix that defect before we schedule another visit,” he said.

Cusi said he could not give a time frame as to when the Icao visit would be re-scheduled. He stressed that the Icao audit was one of the necessary steps for the Philippines to be removed from the US and European blacklists.

In 2008, the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) downgraded the Philippines to “category 2” from “category 1,” which effectively stopped Philippine Airlines, the only local carrier with flights to the US, from expanding services in that country.

In March the European Union blacklisted all Philippine carriers, which barred them from flying to Europe after the Icao raised “serious safety concerns,” including, among others, the lack of qualified professionals in key posts at the CAAP.

The FAA and the EU both take guidance from the Icao.

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