PH still unsure of Category 1 upgrade for NAIA

Posted at 04/30/2012 9:00 AM | Updated as of 04/30/2012 4:34 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines is “consolidating its gains” in the long process of trying to regain the Category 1 status for its premier point of entry, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

The efforts are spearheaded by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap); it wants to convince the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the Philippines is seriously addressing the problems raised during the inspection trip of its officers five years ago when it downgraded the country to Category 2.

But the prospects are uncertain.

A team from the Caap, led by Director General Ramon Gutierrez, has just returned from a visit to the United States where it presented what the Philippines has done so far to resolve the problems that led to the downgrading to Category 2. Gutierrez has yet to talk to the media and nobody knows for sure what the FAA had told Gutierrez’s group. What is known, however, is that when the FAA received the “report” of the Caap, assurances were given that it would be studied promptly and that the Philippines would be informed of the decision soon.

Some sources said what could help convince the FAA to give a “positive grade” for the Philippines is if Philippine Airlines, the national flag carrier, goes through with its plan to buy Boeing planes in its refleeting scheme (the Philippines had been buying European aircraft) and the Department of Transportation and Communications would hurry up with its announced plan to source a $13-billion radar equipment needed by the Naia in the United States.

Five years ago, the Philippines belonged to Category 1 status. This meant the country was in compliance with standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization or Icao. A country’s civil aviation authority has been assessed by FAA inspectors and has been found to license and oversee air carriers in accordance with Icao aviation safety standards.

Following its review in 2008, the FAA demoted the Philippines to Category 2 level. This meant that the Caap was not providing safety oversight of its air-carrier operators, in accordance with the minimum safety oversight standards established by the Icao.

The FAA found 23 issues that needed to be addressed. They included the Philippines’s lack of laws/regulations necessary to support the certification and oversight of air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards; the Caap’s lack of technical expertise, resources and organization to license or oversee air-carrier operations; the Caap does not have adequately trained and qualified technical personnel; the Caap does not provide adequate inspector guidance to ensure enforcement of, and compliance with, minimum international standards; and the Caap has insufficient documentation and records of certification and inadequate continuing oversight and surveillance of air-carrier operations.

After the more than five years of trying to meet the issues raised by the FAA, the Caap did other things to make flying as safe as possible and to hew closely to Icao standards.

One of these involved limiting the heights of structures within a given radius from the Naia so that aircraft flying on instruments are assured they would not smash into tall buildings that are on the path of their landing patterns.

At the height of the building boom a decade ago, tall structures went up like mushrooms along Roxas Boulevard, defying the limitations imposed by aviation authorities.

Some of the buildings were reduced in size, like the structure put up by then-Paranaque Mayor Pablo Olivares along Ninoy Aquino Avenue, located a few hundred meters at the end of Runway 06.

Olivares had to bow down to the requirements of the then-Air Transportation Office (Ato) and had to cut down the size of his commercial building.

The other building owners were sued by the government and had to settle with the aviation authorities, paying hefty penalties, rather than have their buildings reduced in size.

The Ato revised its landing patterns to accommodate the buildings, according to Ed Costes, the chief of the Airport Development and Management Service, under the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines.

Today, about six buildings remain standing, some of them monuments to neglect; the others continue to thrive, albeit penalized, and could no longer stretch their height as their owners wanted.

Costes said that Chateau de Baie, a 20-story structure, had to completely stop construction since Caap regulations allow it only up to 10 stories high. The building is actually measured as 221.65 feet, when the allowed height is only 150 feet high.

The other buildings that were penalized were those of Asia World, formerly owned by Filipino-Chinese tycoon Tan Yu. Standing at 328 feet, the building is considered hazardous to landing aircraft on Runway 06.

Bayview Tower stands at 221.65 feet, a companion building of Chateau de Baie. These two structures were considered impediments to safe landings at Runway 13 of the Manila Domestic Airport.

The Pacific Coast Plaza Condominium stood at 215.09 feet, and was considered a hazard to all airplanes landing on Runway 06, including the Washington Tower and Cleveland Tower, which are located nearby, Costes said.

The Caap had ruled that buildings within a five-mile radius from the end of Runway 13 could only build structures not higher than 150 feet. Buildings built further away from the end of this runway can progressively build higher structures up to 45 miles away.

The same is true for Runway 06 and Runway 24, whose end is dominated by the tall structures in Global City, formerly Fort Bonifacio.

Costes explained that signals from the Instrument Landing System (ILS), are aligned with the runways of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. He said the signals start at almost ground level and progressively goes higher, commensurate with the landing angles of landing airplanes.

These signals are sensitive and operate on line-of-sight scheme, according to Costes.

However, when a building is built in such a manner as to obstruct or impede the radio signals, the pilot receives an erroneous reading on the cockpit that could lead to accidents, hence the necessity of regulating the structures near the airport.

On the other hand, tall structures within a 24-mile radius of the Naia are also under limitations.