MANILA -- Philippine aviation officials criticized the European Union (EU) on Wednesday for banning all Philippine airlines — including the country's flag carrier — from flying to the continent due to safety concerns.

Alfonso Cusi, director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap), acknowledged that there were some safety concerns, but that "does not mean that Philippine aircraft are unsafe."

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“Our aircraft meet the international standards in safety particularly planes manufactured by Airbus, Boeing, ATR, Bombardier and others. It’s a matter of adopting the internationally accepted audit procedures,” Cusi said in a statement.

The European Commission (EC) on Tuesday banned carriers from the Philippines and Sudan from entering its airspace due to noncompliance with international safety standards. At least 47 Philippine carriers are covered by the ban, which takes effect Thursday, officials said.

No Filipino carrier currently flies to Europe, but Philippine Airlines, which last flew to the continent in 1999, said it has always included the EU among a list of destinations where it planned to operate. PAL operates up to 33 weekly flights to American destinations.

The EC’s 13th update of the listing now puts 278 airliners from 17 nations banned from flying in the European airspace.

The 15 countries already under EU ban include Angola, Benin, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Liberia, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Sao Tome and Principe, Swaziland and Zambia.

Saddened

The Philippine flag carrier, PAL, was saddened by the latest EC decision.

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

“PAL would like to assure the riding public that safety remains the bedrock of PAL’s operations. It has always been the flag carrier’s policy to ensure that its passengers fly with the full assurance of safety and comfort,” it added.

The ban came after the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) questioned whether the Philippine aviation authority could adequately ensure the safety of Philippine-registered airlines, and after the earlier downgrading of the Philippines' safety rating by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

ICAO is the Montreal-based UN aviation safety agency.

Support

The European Union, meanwhile, expressed interest to support the Philippines to overcome serious safety deficiencies and said it was ready to visit the country.

"Safety comes first. We are ready to support countries that need to build up technical and administrative capacity to guarantee the necessary standards in civil aviation. But we cannot accept that airlines fly into the EU if they do not fully comply with international safety standards," said EC vice-president Siim Kallas of Estonia.

Kallas said the EU acknowledged the recent efforts launched by the competent authorities to reform the civil aviation system in the Philippines and steps taken to address “safety deficiencies”.

It also took note of the measures taken by two carriers, Philippines Airlines and Cebu Pacific Airlines, to ensure safety of operations.

Early this month, the European Community Air Safety Commission (EC-ASC) arranged a meeting with Caap director-general Alfonso Cusi and other aviation security officials in Brussels, Belgium, which many observers deemed as notice that the Philippines would likely be blacklisted by the EC.

The move came after the ICAO raised a Significant Safety Concern on the Philippines in October 2009.

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. As a result, businesses related to air travel and leisure would also suffer major blows on revenues.

Cusi said steps have been taken to address safety concerns and that he was "disappointed" that EU authorities had not checked on those steps before announcing the ban. He said he has invited EU aviation safety officials to visit in May.

Malacanang, meanwhile, urged the Caap to review their safety standards. (Virgil Lopez/AP/Sunnex)