MANILA Philippines – Tim Neel & Associates LLC a U.S.-based aviation consultancy will be helping the Philippines return to Category 1 safety rating by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
The company is owned by retired Brig. Gen. Tim Neel who had managed FAA’s office responsible for the International Aviation Safety Assessment program. It is the same program that evaluates countries for their adherence to international aviation standards set forth by the International Civil Aviation Organization a unit of the United Nations.
In an interview with the Journal Philippine Airlines President and Chief Operations Officer Jaime J. Bautista said the Philippine flag carrier hired the services of TNA “to train and provide technical assistance to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines.””
CAAP is the country’s main aviation oversight agency which replaced the Air Transport Office in 2008 and is the local equivalent of the FAA.
In January 2008 the FAA downgraded the Philippines to a Category 2 rating because the country “”[did not] comply with international safety standards set by the ICAO.”” In a press release issued then the FAA explained “”A 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 – is deficient in one or more areas such as technical expertise trained personnel record-keeping or inspection procedures “” referring to the then ATO. This put the Philippines in the same category as Bangladesh Congo Gambia Guyana Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe among others.
As a result of the FAA downgrade the European Commission on April 1 2010 also blacklisted Philippine carriers from flying to the European Union.
An official of the Philippines’ Department of Transportation and Communication said he was “”hopeful”” that the country would be able to regain its Category 1 status “”within the year or early next year.”” A Category 1 status means the country is in compliance with all ICAO safety standards.
In a press statement DOTC Undersecretary Glicerio Sicat said there were 22 items identified by the FAA as “”safety concerns”” for the country but most of these have already been resolved except for two items – the lack of qualified safety personnel and an inadequate information technology system to modernize and integrate the aviation sector’s database.
Bautista explained that PAL’s contract with TNA involves technical assistance and delivery to CAAP “”at the shortest time possible”” of a comprehensive regulatory system including an electronic database inspector handbooks and technical guidance advisory circulars updates to the Philippine Civil Aviation Regulations and other related matters.
“”TNA will provide training and software at no cost to the Philippine government since PAL will shoulder all expenses for the duration of the project. As the regulatory agency CAAP on the other hand would be the one to implement needed reforms “” he added.
Bautista declined to reveal the cost of the contract between PAL and TNA.
It was the second time the Philippines was downgraded to a Category 2 rating; the first time was in 1996. It regained its Category 1 rating in 2002 but the FAA said in January 2008 “”After a consultation in November 2007 the agency determined that the Philippines was no longer overseeing the safety of its airlines in accordance with international standards.””
An FAA Category 2 rating prevents Philippine carriers to fly to the U.S. or in the case of PAL which already flies there the safety rating prevents the flag carrier from expanding its services in the U.S. and its territories like Guam and Hawaii. It also prevents the carrier from upgrading from the current aircraft it uses for flights there. The only way PAL can expand its flights beyond its current 33 flights per week or use larger aircraft is to undertake a wet-lease agreement with a U.S. company and pay American pilots to fly the leased planes.
PAL the pioneering airline in Asia and the Philippines is celebrating its 70th year in the aviation industry. It is majority-owned by Lucio Tan who is the airline company’s chairman and chief executive officer. He also owns Goodwind Corp. which does business as Micronesia Mall.
The PAL official said TNA specializes in international aviation safety matters including the assessment of aviation safety standards at government civil aviation authorities international air carriers and airports.
It has assisted the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and Ghana to regain Category 1 Status from the FAA.
The consultancy firm has also provided technical expertise to Angola Vietnam and other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to develop or restructure their flight safety oversight capabilities.
TNA likewise provides safety and security oversight audits of South Pacific island nations for the Asian Development Bank.
The consultancy is owned by retired Brig. Gen. Tim Neel a former Deputy Commanding General of the District of Columbia National Guard.
“”Neel’s team is composed of seasoned auditors capable of conducting safety oversight audits and has conducted dozens of aviation safety oversight audits and technical assistance projects for foreign governments and foreign airlines covering most regions of the world “” the PAL president said.
Aside from the FAA downgrade to Category 2 Philippine carriers are also blacklisted by the EU from flying to the region. In April 2010 then EU ambassador to Manila Alistair MacDonald said: “”The [European] commission considers that the supervisory authority is currently not able to implement and enforce the relevant safety standards and decided therefore to ban from EU airspace all air carriers licensed in the Philippines until these deficiencies are corrected.”” Even before the ban was in place there were no Philippine carriers flying to Europe. PAL had pulled out from the region in 1997 affected by the Asian financial crisis.
Analysts said the blacklist would discourage Europeans from traveling to the Philippines. This has not come to pass however. Data from the Philippines’ Department of Tourism showed an increase in European travelers to the Philippines by almost 30% in 2010 compared to 2009.
Bautista noted it was Tan himself who suggested to the carrier’s board of directors that they hire TNA’s services so the Philippines could immediately regain compliance with ICAO safety standards and thus help speedily lift the EU blacklist and FAA rating of the country.
He also said since the PAL was currently the only local carrier flying to the U.S. it was in the carrier’s best interest for the country to immediately get out of Category 2. “”While PAL is the principal beneficiary of the Category 2 lifting the same will also benefit all other Philippine carriers with plans to operate in the U.S. and other U.S. territories. More importantly if CAAP is fully compliant with ICAO standards it could also pave the way for the lifting of ICAO’s ‘significant safety concerns’ and the EU blacklist of Philippine carriers “” he stressed.
Bautista said hiring TNA’s services is a kind of “”investment”” for PAL because it is preparing to receive four new Boeing 777-300 extended range aircraft in 2012 and 2013. “”In the short term it would also allow PAL to make use of its two B777s to the U.S. the route they were originally intended for “” he emphasized.
This was not the first time PAL helped the CAAP improve its operations. Early this year he said PAL – along with other Philippine carriers Cebu Pacific Zest Airways and its sister carrier Air Philippines Express – also provided assistance to the CAAP for the development of global positioning satellite approaches or required navigation approach systems for six of Philippine airports.