Philippines expects to be lifted from US air blacklist

MANILA - The Philippines expects to be removed from a US air safety blacklist this year, opening a lucrative market for its carriers, an aviation regulator said Thursday.

John Andrews, deputy director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), said he was very confident the upgrade would occur following a similar decision by the European Union last week.

"We're going to make it. (It's) as simple as that," Andrews told AFP in an interview.

The US Federal Aviation Administration said in 2008 that the Philippines was failing to comply with international safety standards, and banned its airlines from expanding services to the United States.

The European Union banned all Philippine carriers from flying to Europe in 2010 for similar reasons.

Reforms put in place since then, including a law creating a new aviation regulator, the CAAP, allowed the Philippines to satisfy the concerns of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in February.

This led to the EU's decision last week to allow Philippine Airlines to begin flying into its airspace. The EU said it was reviewing the case of other Filipino carriers.

Andrews said he expected US aviation regulators to make similar findings when it carried out an audit before the end of the year.

He said Filipino regulators had addressed safety concerns by physically tracking down every aircraft registered in the Philippines and getting their owners to submit documentation.

This was to make sure the CAAP stopped the illegal practice of cannibalising old aircraft to supply parts for planes of the same make that were still flying, he said.

He said the CAAP also had to update records on the air-worthiness of all civilian aircraft serving Philippine airspace.

Andrews said the law that created the CAAP, also in 2008, allowed it to offer higher salaries than other government agencies to its air safety inspectors.

This was important so the inspectors, now being paid more than triple their 2008 salaries, could resist bribes to certify all aircraft as air-worthy.

Andrews said that apart from Philippine Airlines, other local carriers such as Cebu Pacific wanted to fly to the United States.

"They will all compete because it's a rich market," he said.