BRUSSELS, Belgium – Philippine tourism is expected to get a boost and flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) can fly directly to Europe after the 28-member European Union (EU) took the country out of its aviation safety blacklist yesterday.
The EU issued a “significant safety concern” on the Philippines following an aviation audit in 2009. Philippine carriers were banned from flying to Europe in March 2010.
“Following improvements in the safety situation in the Philippines, Philippine Airlines is the first airline from this country allowed back into European skies since 2010,” the EU said.
The decision came after EU’s update – its 21st – on its air safety list. It takes effect tomorrow.
Siim Kallas, European Commission (EC) vice president for transport, said the list should serve as a “wake-up call” to countries whose air services need improvement, particularly in the area of safety, adding that the list was prepared “for the protection of European skies and citizens.”
“Today we confirmed our willingness to remove countries and airlines from the list if they show real commitment and capacity to implement international safety standards in a sustainable manner,” Kallas said.
“Besides the Philippines, Venezuela and Mauritania, good signs of progress are also coming from a number of other African countries,” the EC official said.
The lifting was also announced in a press briefing by Philippine EU delegation head Guy Ledoux.
“Taking into account the improved safety oversight provided by the competent authorities of the Philippines, and the ability of the air carrier Philippine Airlines to ensure effective compliance with relevant aviation safety regulations, and following an on-site safety assessment visit last June, it was decided to lift the ban affecting this carrier registered in the Philippines,” EC said.
Ledoux said the EC and the Air Safety Committee were encouraged by the actions undertaken by Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippine (CAAP) and concerned carriers, particularly Philippine Airlines, in addressing safety concerns.
He said the EC would continue to closely monitor air safety measures including those of other airlines such as Cebu Pacific.
He said the lifting of the ban on Cebu Pacific would depend on the ability of the airline to comply with safety requirements, especially after the series of incidents involving the airline.
“Yes, the Filipino can,” CAAP director General William Hotchkiss said in reaction to the lifting of the ban.
Hotchkiss went to Brussels last month for talks with the EU’s air safety committee. He presented PAL’s credentials to win EU’s approval of the carrier’s application to fly three European destinations.
Data showed European tourists who visited the Philippines increased by 10 percent to 349,000 last year even with the absence of direct flights.
“Direct connections will provide a strong additional incentive for European tourists to visit the Philippines,” Hotchkiss said.
PAL readies comeback
The lifting of the EU ban was “another testimony to PAL’s reputation as a safe airline,” Ramon Ang, president and chief operating officer, said.
“Credit goes to the Philippine government for all its effort and hard work in successfully addressing this significant concern hounding our aviation industry for years,” he said.
“This welcome development 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,” he added.
“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,” he pointed out. “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.”
Malacañang expressed elation at the development and thanked CAAP for its effort to win back EU’s trust in Philippine air services.
“The determination and hard work that have resulted in the upgrading of the country’s aviation status will generate positive, far-reaching effects for the local aviation industry and the country in general,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a statement.
“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 Eurozone,” Lacierda said.
He added that the positive development would strengthen the resolve of CAAP as it continues to coordinate with other international aviation bodies to improve and upgrade the status of Philippine aviation.
On March 1, the International Civil Aviation Organization determined that the CAAP had addressed and resolved the issues raised against Philippine carriers.
“Given CAAP’s positive endorsement from the European Commission, the EU may now rely on CAAP’s judgment regarding the safety of other airlines for in-country use by EU citizens,” Lacierda said.
Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ricky Carandang said “this is good news for PAL, and is a sign of the improvement in Philippine aviation standards.”
Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. said the EC decision is likely to significantly boost tourist arrivals from Europe.
“We are most pleased over the news that CAAP is now once again recognized by the EU and that Philippine Airlines can fly to Europe once again,” Jimenez said.
Jimenez has also lauded the CAAP and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) for their contribution to getting the EC to allow the Philippines to resume operations in Europe.
“Our congratulations to all at CAAP, DOTC and the airlines,” the DOT official said.
“This is a major boost to Philippine tourism and our efforts at inclusive growth,” Jimenez said.