‘Too early to say Cebu Pacific plane mishap was caused by pilot error’
At least two aviation experts have criticized the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) for being quick to judge as “human error” a Cebu Pacific Air plane’s overshooting the runway when it landed at the Davao International Airport last Sunday.
“What pilot error are they talking about? Is that fair to the pilots? They (CAAP officials) were not there in the cockpit. Have they read the black box?” said Amado Soliman, president of the Air Safety Foundation and former chairman of the CAAP aircraft accident investigation and inquiry board.
“In an investigation, you can’t make conjectures. You need facts that would be gathered in an investigation,” he said.
A television report also quoted Airline Pilots Association of the Philippines president Elmer Peña as making similar observations.
“It hurts when you point out pilot error [because] there are many other factors in an accident, like the wind or weather. If you’ll say the cause is mechanical, then it would be the manufacturer [of the aircraft] and the company (airline) that would be clashing,” he said.
Candice Iyog, Cebu Pacific vice president for promotion and distribution, said people should not rush to judgment.
“The investigation is ongoing and until such time that we are able to review the contents of the flight data recorder and see the final report of the aircraft investigation unit, we can’t really say it’s pilot error,” she told reporters.
CAAP Director General William Hotchkiss III and his deputy, Capt. John Andrews, earlier said that based on initial reports and evidence they had obtained, the overshooting was likely the result of pilot error.
Andrews, who said he had spoken with the two pilots involved in the accident, vowed that Cebu Pacific would be given a fair hearing.
The CAAP was continuing its closed-door investigation into the accident on Thursday. A source in the agency, who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak to the press, said Cebu Pacific officials had conferred with the investigators on Wednesday but did not bring along the pilots and the cabin crew involved.
The source also said that at least one CAAP official had agreed that the Cebu Pacific crew followed the correct procedure when they initiated a “precautionary evacuation” instead of an immediate evacuation.
The black box and flight data recorder of the Airbus 320 arrived in Manila Thursday. The devices will be brought by CAAP and Cebu Pacific representatives to the Airbus regional office in Singapore.
The pilot and copilot are expected to shed light on the incident. There have been reports that the pilot had been behaving strangely, that it was the copilot who actually made the landing, and that the two had instructed the crew to conduct a precautionary evacuation.
Questions about the pilot’s flying hours have also been raised, but Cebu Pacific officials declined to comment on his credentials.
Aviation industry experts have pointed out that at Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific’s chief competitor, Airbus pilots are required to have at least 4,000 flying hours.
Iyog said what was clear was that the aircraft landed on the runway but then veered off.
“Let us learn first what happened before we take the next action. Until such time that we have the report (of the CAAP investigators), everything right now is speculative,” she said.
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