European Union bans Philippine Airlines from entering EU’s air space

Effective today, Philippine Airlines, the country’s flag carrier, is banned from entering the air space of the 27-nation European Union (EU), it was decided on Tuesday by the Brussels-based European Commission (EC).

Reacting to the move, PAL acknowledged that the EC blacklist is “a direct consequence of the downgrade of the Philippine government’s aviation safety rating.”

PAL is the sole Philippine-certified airline with a permit to fly to the EU.

The move was part of EC’s overall evaluation of air travel safety to the European bloc.

PAL said in a statement that “it is gravely concerned” and that “it laments that the EC decision came about notwithstanding PAL’s safety record, as borne out by its compliance with internationally-accepted safety standards.”

The standards include the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) and audits by major foreign aviation regulatory authorities. For four consecutive years since 2006, PAL is the only IOSA-certified Philippine carrier.

Last year, the safety rating of Philippine airports was downgraded by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Following that, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) announced in October 2009 a “Significant Safety Concern” vis-à-vis the oversight functions of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).

Tuesday’s decision was a unanimous opinion of the EU’s Air Safety Committee during a meeting in Brussels in mid-March.

This Committee brings together air safety experts from all the 27 EU member-States, as well as from Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, EASA and Eurocontrol.

According to the EC Delegation in Manila, CAAP newly-appointed Director-General Alfonso Cusi participated in that meeting, wherein he informed the Committee of the steps taken to redress the safety performance of the Philippines — at least since his appointment in March.

PAL and Cebu Pacific senior representatives, who were also in the meeting, briefed the Committee on their respective measures to enhance travel safety, the EC added.

CAAP’s Cusi said: “Even if the Philippines is listed by the EU, it does not mean that Philippine carriers are unsafe.”

”In announcing its decision, the European Commission noted that the immediate concrete actions taken by the new management of CAAP demonstrated the willingness of the Philippines to address quickly the identified safety deficiencies, and to pave the way for their successful resolution without delay,” said Alistair MacDonald, EC Ambassador to Manila.

MacDonald said that “the European Commission has been in discussion on these matters with the CAAP since April 2008, and acknowledges the recent efforts launched by the CAAP to reform the civil aviation system in the Philippines and the steps undertaken to address the safety deficiencies reported by FAA and ICAO.

The Commission also recognizes the measures taken by Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific to ensure the safety of their operations.” It added that Brussels was prepared to send a delegation of safety experts to visit Manila.

Still, both CAAP’s inability “to implement and enforce the relevant safety standards and ICAO’s “Significant Safety Concern” bore significantly on the EU’s decision, according to MacDonald.

“In view of the Significant Safety Concern identified by ICAO in relation to the supervisory authority and pending the implementation of adequate corrective actions, including those drawn up in response to our concerns in 2008 but not yet implemented, the Commission considers that the supervisory authority is currently not able to implement and enforce the relevant safety standards, and decided therefore to ban from EU airspace all air carriers licensed in the Philippines until these deficiencies are corrected,” MacDonald said.

In a statement, the EC Delegation in Manila said the Commission “confirmed also that it is ready to support the efforts of the Philippines wherever possible, and is ready to examine any information demonstrating progress in the implementation of corrective actions and compliance with international safety standards.

”This support could include an expert visit to review the safety performance of the major operators and the oversight exercised by the CAAP, with a view to reconsidering the operating ban in the near future.

Except for partial restrictions on North Korea, the Philippines and Indonesia are the only Asian countries banned from EU air space. The Philippines join 16 other mostly African countries, with a total 278 airlines, blacklisted.

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