Officials of the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union (EU), have added carriers from the Philippines and Sudan to its EU “blacklist”, effectively blocking services into member states by these airlines.
It has also placed restrictions on Iran Air, but has eased those on North Korean operator Air Koryo.
The EU said it was aware that Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific were working to maintain high operating standards but preferred to “follow the principle of precaution” with regard to Philippine aviation conditions.
PAL does not serve Europe, having pulled out of the region in 1998, citing unprofitable routes.
The Philippines is also not in good standing with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which downgraded its aviation safety standards from category 1 to category 2 in 2008. PAL chief operating officer, Jaime Bautista, told Business Traveller earlier (see news) that his government was working to improve the rating and was optimistic the situation would improve later this year.
Without that revision, PAL cannot hope to expand in its biggest market, the US, where thousands of Filipino expatriates reside.
A PAL statement, released just after news of the EU ban, said that despite the Category 2 rating, “it must be noted that the US FAA continues to allow PAL to operate up to 33 regular weekly flights from the Philippines to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, Las Vegas and Guam. PAL safely flies thousands of passengers, including US citizens, across the Pacific Ocean on a regular and reliable basis in compliance with stringent US safety regulations.”
Josen Perez de Tagle, PAL assistant vice-president, government affairs, admitted PAL was surprised by the ruling. However, EU officials, he said, told PAL that it could be exempted from the ban if it passed the audit. An EU team of inspectors is due in the Philippines around May. “They said not to worry and that we would get our day in court,” he said.
Perez de Tagle said PAL was eager for the EU visit, so aside from Philippine aviation regulators, “it can also inspect and audit local carriers”. He added: “All of us at the airline have worked so hard to achieve the goal of being a world-class carrier of uncompromising professionalism and efficiency.”
Air Philippines, a low-cost subsidiary of PAL, said through its president David Lim that, while the EU ban had no direct effect on local airlines, it gives the impression that Philippine carriers are unsafe. “We wish to assure the riding public that our planes are well-maintained and adhere to a strict maintenance policy that puts a premium on passenger comfort and safety.”
In 2007, a similar ban by the EU was placed on all 51 Indonesian carriers, including flag-carrier Garuda Indonesia, after a string of fatal incidents. This was partially lifted in July last year, with Garuda and three other airlines, Mandala Airlines, Airfast Indonesia and Premiair emerging from the prohibition. Garuda has returned from that hiatus, a reinvigorated product and will soon launch a Jakarta-Amsterdam service in June.
The ER airline blacklist, introduced in 2006, is reviewed every three months. The list includes around 280 airlines, mainly from Africa.
Margie T Logarta