MANILA, Philippines—Philippine Airlines (PAL) will open services to New York, Chicago, Florida and other major cities in the United States within a year following the removal of the Philippines from the air safety blacklist of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Thursday.
Other Philippine carriers may now also fly to the United States with the restoration of the country’s Category 1 rating.
US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg announced Thursday the FAA’s restoration of the Philippines to Category 1 rating on Twitter.
“Good news! Philippines compliance with international aviation safety oversight standards earns Category 1 Safety Rating,” Goldberg said.
PAL hailed the FAA decision, which will enable the flag carrier to resume services on its Manila-New York route and expand to other destinations in the United States.
“Your flag carrier welcomes the return of the country’s aviation rating to Category 1,” PAL president and CEO Ramon Ang said.
“This is a culmination of the government’s hard work, as exemplified by the efforts of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) to upgrade the country’s international aviation safety standards,” he said.
“With the upgrade, the Philippines now rejoins the ranks of the most important aviation nations in the world, made up of select countries that meet the [United States’] strict standards of aviation safety,” Ang said.
Although widely expected, Thursday’s FAA decision came as a surprise, as it had been expected to be announced by US President Barack Obama during his visit to the Philippines later this month.
The FAA decision, based on a March review of the CAAP, came after the European Union in July 2013 lifted its own ban on Philippine Airlines after they upgraded their aviation safety standards.
Ang said PAL was ready with an expansion plan for its US services following the upgrade.
He said PAL would open services to New York, Chicago, Florida and other cities on the US East Coast within a year.
PAL used to fly to New York, operating services there from 1996 to 1997. It stopped the services due to financial constraints and as the Asian financial crisis forced businesses to review aggressive expansion plans.
The airline stopped flights to Europe a year later.
Meeting int’l standards
Category 1 rating means the CAAP complies with safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency that lays down international standards and recommended aviation practices, including aircraft operation and maintenance, the US Embassy in Manila said.
The FAA downgraded the Philippines to Category 2 rating in January 2008 for failure to meet international safety standards.
Category 2 rating “means a country either lacks laws or regulations necessary to oversee air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards, or that its civil aviation authority—equivalent to the FAA for aviation safety matters—is deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record keeping or inspection procedures,” the embassy said.
The 2008 downgrade of the Philippines to Category 2 status due to US concerns over the quality of Philippine aviation standards froze the local aviation industry in a status quo, preventing Philippine carriers from expanding their US operations or even replacing their gas-guzzling aircraft with newer and fuel-efficient airplanes.
Thursday’s reinstatement to Category 1 rating will not only allow Philippine airlines to add more flights between the Philippines and the United States, but also replace older aircraft with more fuel-efficient planes and, subject to bilateral negotiations, open up routes to new destinations like the US East Coast.
Goldberg’s good news
Goldberg spoke at a luncheon meeting of the Rotary Club of Manila, where he gave more details of the Philippine upgrade.
“The first thing I did this morning is I went to see the Civil Aviation Administration [of the Philippines] to give them a letter from the FAA in Washington to tell the [Philippines] that it now has Category 1 status,” Goldberg said, drawing applause from the Rotarians.
“This will open up all kinds of opportunities,” he said. “It will help the Philippine airline industry do several things, including create more opportunities for US routes, and to use new aircraft.”
Goldberg said the United States would “continue to work with the Philippines so that the safety adjustments and safety improvements under way, specifically related to certain issues, will continue through technical consultations.”
He described the US assistance to the Philippine civil aviation industry as “a continuing process” with the goal of making the local improvement “stick,” making the Category 1 status “a permanent condition.”
“This is good news for the Philippines and for the Filipino people,” Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said, as he commended the CAAP for dealing with the FAA’s concerns about aviation safety in the Philippines and the Philippine mission in Washington for its efforts to get the upgrade.
Lone PH carrier to US
At present, PAL is the only local carrier that has flights to the United States.
PAL uses 1990s Boeing 747-400 and Airbus A340-300 aircraft, designed and built long before the recent spike in fuel prices made them less attractive to cost-saving airlines.
The upgrade to Category 1 status will allow PAL to use newer and more fuel-efficient Boeing 777-300ER twin-engine jets on its trans-Pacific routes.
PAL’s Ang said using those aircraft would result in “big fuel savings” for the flag carrier.
Currently, PAL operates 26 weekly flights to the United States, with services to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honoluly and Guam.
Bigger aircraft, lie-flat beds
PAL said in a statement that it would deploy six Boeing 777-300ERs, acquired in recent years for $1.2 billion, for US flights “within a month’s time.”
“With this, passengers can now enjoy nonstop flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco aboard new aircraft equipped with the most modern cabin and state-of-the-art amenities, including lie-flat beds in business class,” the airline said.
For its flights to Honolulu and Guam, PAL will continue to use new wide-body Airbus A330-300s and single-aisle A320-200s.
Shares of local airlines rose following Goldberg’s announcement.
Tourism officials, travel agents and tour operators welcomed the upgrade as a boost to tourism and the economy.
Presidential deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said the US decision signaled “enhanced tourism and economic activity between the Philippines and the US.”
Valte lauded Philippine transportation and civil aviation officials for rectifying lapses in the past and for ensuring that the country’s aviation industry meets international standards.
Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) Executive Director Carmelo Arcilla said the upgrade presented Philippine carriers with an opportunity to tap the broader US travel market.
“The US market is our number two source of traffic, with 3 million Filipinos [living] in the US. [The] bulk of that is Filipino-Americans,” Arcilla said. “[Philippine] airlines do not even operate to the US East Coast. It’s a center for Filipino communities as well.”
“For us travel agents and tour operators, it’s a welcome development in terms of creating more package tours,” said JP Cabalza, president of the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA).—With reports from Tarra Quismundo, AFP and AP