2 Cebu Pacific pilots in mishap suspended

CAAP: They broke flight and safety regulations

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The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) ordered Tuesday the suspension of two pilots of the Cebu Pacific plane that overshot the runway of Davao International Airport on June 2, saying they violated regulations and failed to evacuate its 165 passengers within the required 90 seconds.

Management’s liability was not immediately spelled out, but the CAAP asked the budget carrier to reassess practices that had allegedly compromised safety.

Speaking at a press conference, CAAP deputy director general John Andrews said Capt. Antonio Roehl Oropesa and First Officer Edwin Perello, the pilot and copilot of Airbus A320-200, had been ordered suspended for six months and three months, respectively.

After the lapse of the suspension and the requirements for the reinstatement of his Airline Transport Pilot License had been complied with, Oropesa can only act as second in command in flights for one year, Andrews said.

Cebu Air Inc., operator of the budget carrier, said it would comply with the CAAP recommendations and was pursuing additional safety initiatives. “Safety has always been the highest priority for Cebu Pacific,” it said in a statement. “We aim to provide the safest airline service possible for the millions of passengers who travel with us every year.”

Andrews said information obtained by the CAAP from the data flight recorder of the Airbus, which was examined in Singapore, confirmed his earlier statement that the initial evidence pointed to human error as the cause of the accident.

Evacuation 25 minutes late

No passenger in the Cebu Pacific flight 5J-971 was injured when the aircraft rolled out of the runway in stormy weather and landed a meter away from the edge of the grassy surface, paralyzing airport operations for two days.

Andrews said when the pilots encountered “zero visibility upon landing” they should have done “balked landing” by maneuvering the aircraft back in the air to avoid the runway accident.

“This kind of aircraft is capable of balked landing and taking off again. The aircraft can be controlled easier when up in the air,” he explained.

Andrews said after the plane came to a full stop, all the cabin attendants positioned themselves at the exits and waited for the pilots’ directive to get the passengers out. “But the command never came … The pilots did not declare an emergency nor order an emergency evacuation,” he said, noting that the cabin attendants were not to blame for the incident.

He said that according to aviation protocols, the emergency exits should have been ordered opened and the passengers evacuated within 90 seconds. “The airline crew started evacuating passengers 20 minutes later,” he said.

The regulations that the pilots allegedly violated included those relating to “operations below decision height or minimum descent altitude, emergency evacuation demonstration and cockpit checklist procedure.”

Corrective actions

Andrews said the investigators during the three-week inquiry talked with CAAP personnel, firemen, cabin crew and the pilots. They also reviewed the transcripts of the control tower and approach control, as well as those found in the cockpit voice recorder, and performed visual inspections of both the runway and the aircraft, he said.

He said the CAAP had given Cebu Pacific a set of “corrective action plans,” which included reassessing its practices that compromise safety.

He said CAAP personnel would randomly check Cebu Pacific’s flight crew capabilities in unusual situations through flight simulations for one month to determine if the recent accident was an isolated case.

The CAAP will also hold special training for Cebu Pacific’s crew in initiating go-around or balked landing, Andrews said. “Balked landing has never been part of (Cebu Pacific’s) training and simulation,” he said. “In order to save costs, the levels of fuel of Cebu Pacific air buses were not enough to do a go-around.”

Safety initiatives

Asked if the CAAP was recommending a suit for damages, Andrews said: “We have not yet seen the need to do so.”

In its statement, Cebu Air said it was pursuing additional safety initiatives beyond CAAP’s recommendations:

— Enhancement of training curriculum to include additional focus on wet runway landings, “go-arounds” and inclement weather and nonprecision approaches.

— Implementation of the enhanced curriculum by Airbus trainers at the Philippine Academy for Aviation Training (PAAT), the only facility in the country that belongs to the CAE-Airbus Training cooperation, and with two state-of-the-art full-flight simulators. Inaugurated in Clark in December 2012, PAAT is a joint venture with Canada-based CAE. CAE operates the world’s largest airline training network.

— An independent review of flight operation systems and processes by Airbus Industries. Airbus will deploy a team of safety, flight operations and human factor experts to Manila for this review.

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