NEWLY-APPOINTED Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) Director General Alfonso Cusi said the country should regain a topnotch aviation safety rating to avert any negative impact on the country’s growing tourism industry.

“There is urgency in our current position to demonstrate that we have strong oversight of the air carriers active in the Philippines and that our regulations and practices are aligned with international civil aviation standards,” Cusi said in a statement.

After replacing retired General Ruben Ciron last week, Cusi laid down three measures supposedly to bring back the country to Category 1 as per evaluation by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).

The initiatives include the immediate hiring of 47 qualified technical personnel for the Flight Standards Inspectorate Service and the issuance of an order that will ground air operators who are not certificated by December 1, 2010.

Next is to ask the Civil Service Commission (CSC) for the immediate approval of the Minimum Quality Standards for the needed technical staff and lastly, heightened surveillance inspection of air operators conducting international flights.

The Philippines suffered a downgrade from Category 1 to Category 2 by FAA in November 2007 after the then Air Transportation Office (ATO) received unfavorable review under FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment.

The downgrading means the ATO has no sufficient qualified personnel and equipment. The Philippines also experienced seesaw evaluations in the past years.

In 2002, the country was under Category 1 but it came with a warning that the country might fall short of international standards.

The country passed in FAA's first assessment in 1995, but dropped to Category 2 shortly after. It regained Category 1 rating in 1997.

But despite the passage of the law that created CAAP and replaced the former ATO three years ago, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) still raised a Significant Safety Concern (SSC) on the Philippines in October 2009.

The issue has also prompted the European Community Air Safety Commission (EC-ASC) to arrange a meeting with Cusi and other aviation security officials in Brussels, Belgium this week which many observers deemed as notice that the Philippines would likely be blacklisted by the EC.

“We are actually on a mission here. We hope that we can convince them that the Philippine aviation system is safe and that it is not necessary for them to blacklist us,” Cusi said. “It will be detrimental to the Philippine economy if we are disconnected from this very important trade and commercial route because of a blacklist.”

Cusi also invited the European Union Air Safety Committee to conduct an independent safety inspection on the country’s aviation system to “demonstrate” commitment to an “improved air safety oversight.”

Both the government and industry players acknowledged that a negative rating from the EC would translate to potential losses to the aviation and tourism sectors. Specifically, the Philippine international carriers may be denied of further landing rights in foreign destinations. As a result, businesses related to air travel and leisure would also suffer major blows on revenues. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)