EU lifts ban on Philippine Airlines

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HIGH ON GOOD NEWS Europe will be open again to Philippine Airlines (PAL), Asia’s first and oldest commercial airline, starting July 12. EU Ambassador Guy Ledoux, head of the delegation of the European Union to the Philippines, presents the good news to the press at the CAAP on Wednesday. At right are French envoy Gilles Garachon and Ramon S. Ang, PAL president/CEO. GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

The European Union has lifted a ban on Philippine Airlines (PAL) flying into its airspace after the national carrier resolved aviation safety concerns, the EU ambassador to Manila said on Wednesday.

“Today the EU has decided to lift the air ban on Philippine Airlines,” said EU Ambassador to the Philippines Guy Ledoux.

He said PAL would be allowed to fly into the 28-member bloc starting Friday, which will spur tourism and business links.

“Direct connections will provide a strong additional incentive for European tourists to visit the Philippines,” Ledoux said.

PAL president and CEO Ramon S. Ang told reporters at a joint news conference with Ledoux that the airline planned to begin flights to London, Paris, Rome and Amsterdam by September or October.

Ledoux said the decision applied only to PAL, but the ban on other Philippine carriers may also be lifted because of a general improvement in the country’s aviation safety standards and positive work by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP). “This decision is very encouraging and is a first success for both CAAP and Philippine Airlines,” he said.

Ledoux noted the improvements in the implementation of aviation safety standards by PAL and Cebu Pacific.

Cebu Pacific, however, was excluded from the decision after the carrier inhibited itself following the June 2 crash landing by one of its airplanes at Davao International Airport.

No one was hurt in the accident, which the CAAP attributed to pilot error.

“The unfortunate accident in June showed some weaknesses still to be addressed,” Ledoux said.

But Cebu Pacific, he said, still has the opportunity to fly to Europe “if it can provide evidence as Philippine Airlines has provided” that it meets international aviation safety standards.

Malacañang welcomed the EU decision.

“This is good news for PAL, and is a sign of improvements in Philippine aviation standards,” said Strategic Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang.

“We commend [the Department of Transportation and Communications] and the CAAP for their good work,” Carandang said.

Boon to tourism

“One significant boon is the reopening of direct flight routes from the Philippines to Europe, which will boost tourism, enhance competitiveness, and facilitate the entry of investments from the euro zone,” he added.

“There is consistent evidence that direct air connections between countries have a positive impact on business relations. EU-Philippine trade and investment relations will benefit from the lifting of the air ban,” Ledoux said.

“The European Commission and the Air Safety Committee are encouraged by the actions being taken by CAAP and Philippine air carriers to address safety issues,” Ledoux said.

(EU officials) will continue to closely monitor the situation in view of conducting further reviews, including other Philippine air carriers,” he said.

Wednesday’s announcement was expected, as the Philippines passed an aviation safety audit conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in February.

Westward expansion

PAL’s Ang said the carrier was confident it could provide “better services [than the competition]” because “we can do nonstop flights to Europe.”

Ang said PAL could fly seven times a week to London and at least six times a week to Paris.

In a statement that PAL issued later, Ang said the EU decision “also signals the westward expansion of our international route network as we prepare for the much-awaited return of PAL to such popular European destinations as London, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Rome and Madrid.”

“When we fly back to Europe after an absence of 15 years, we can boast of a newer fleet of aircraft and top-quality customer service,” Ang said.

“More than providing Filipinos living and working in Europe with the most direct link to Manila, we hope to bring the best of the Philippines to Europe and the best of Europe to the Philippines,” he said.

CAAP officials said they were looking forward to positive results of a review by US regulators.

CAAP Director General William Hotchkiss said US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials arrived in the Philippines on Monday for an assessment that was supposed to run for two weeks.

But the FAA officials said they could leave as early as Friday, which Hotchkiss said was an indication of positive results of the assessment.

The FAA lowered its rating of the Philippines from Category 1 to Category 2 in 2008, preventing the country from expanding its routes to the US.—With reports from TJ Burgonio, AP, AFP and Matikas Santos of INQUIRER.net

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