US, EU ban on Philippine carriers seen to be lifted

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The government is confident that Philippine airlines, whose operations in the United States and Europe are now restricted, will be able to expand in those countries next year, citing significant progress in domestic aviation safety.

In its most recent assessment on the Philippines, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said it recognized steps taken by the Aquino administration to conform with global air travel best practices.

"There was a validating mission by the ICAO. The purpose was to check on our progress. I heard a lot of positive adjectives being used, but we still have lots to do," Transportation Secretary Jose Emilio "Jun" Abaya said.

In 2010, the ICAO raised several "significant safety concerns" over the Philippine aviation sector, in particular, the poor state of the industry's regulatory environment.

The European Union used ICAO's findings as basis to ban Philippine carriers from operating in the continent. Philippine airliners were also barred from entering the continent's airspace.

Out of the ICAO's original 89 points of concern, Abaya said only two remained unaddressed. These involve the registration of aviation companies and regulations covering the training of pilots and other industry personnel.

Also cited by the ICAO report were countries like Angola, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Djibouti, Kazakhstan, Guinea-Bissau, Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia.

In 2007, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lowered the status of Philippine carriers to "category 2 and effectively imposed restrictions on the operations of local airliners. The FAA cited the Philippine government's poor oversight capabilities, and banned local airlines from expanding operations in the United States.

As a result, flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) is not allowed to fly to other destinations apart from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Speaking to reporters, Abaya said the ICAO had agreed to help the Philippines address the two remaining concerns, in time for the scheduled final audit in February.

"We have the tools and policies, we just have to show that we can implement it," Abaya said.

"They committed to have a person from ICAO to hand-hold us until February," Abaya said. "What we can realistically expect from ICAO is that they will remove the SCCs.

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