CAAP suspends Zest Air over safety violations

Posted at 08/16/13 5:36 PM

Zest Air to refund passengers

MANILA (3rd UPDATE) – The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) on Friday ordered the suspension of the air operations of Zest Airways, a joint venture of businessman Alfredo Yao and Philippines' AirAsia, due to various safety violations.

In a letter to Zest Air owner Yao dated August 16, CAAP officer-in-charge Capt. John Andrews said it is "alarmed" by Zest Air's series of "serious deviations and infractions" of the rules and standards under the Philippine Civil Aviation Regulations.

"It is informed that your Air Operator Certificate is suspended and hereby precluded to engage in air carrier operations," he said.

The suspension will only be lifted once the CAAP is "assured" of the necessary corrective actions and compliance with aviation safety standards.

The CAAP's decision was based on a report conducted by a group of airworthiness inspectors tasked to monitor Zest Air operations last July 31.

In the August 16 report, the airworthiness inspectors said it found continuing safety violations made by ZestAir and recommended the immediate suspension of its operations.

Andrews said Zest Air was placed on “heightened surveillance” 3 weeks ago, and the inspectors saw “no significant trend of correcting the defects.”

Accountable manager

One of Zest Air’s violations, according to CAAP, was its lack of qualified accountable manager, a position formerly occupied by Capt. Ely Tabora.

Andrews said Tabora vacated his post on July 16, and Zest Air failed to replace him.

“They had 10 days to replace him and his replacement had to be approved by the CAAP. This did not happen,” he said.

He added that Zest Air “illegally operated” in this period because of this.

Other violations

Other violations were Zest Air's failure of the flight crew to check aircraft logs, flight manifest and weather, and failure to present the airman license to the CAAP during ramp inspection.

Zest Air was also cited for various "occurrences that affected flight operations," such as a fuel overflow in Kalibo on July 22 and August 9.

Another safety violation was the airline's refueling with passengers on board last August 14.

Andrews also cited a flight in Tagbilaran that was grounded because of a missing fuel cap and defective flight controls.

He said the captain reported that the fuel cap was missing, then later retracted and said the cap had been found.

However, inspectors later discovered that the cap was still missing.

“It was discovered that the cap has been missing since March of this year,” said Andrews.

Zest Air was also cited for excessive flight duty time. The report noted that since January 2012, several pilots have exceeded the 100 hours flight time limit per month due to the rise in flight operations and flight crew shortage.

"Zest Air lacks procedures in monitoring the flight time limit of pilots and procedures ... In 2012, 24 pilots have exceeded the flying time limitations," it said.

Zest Air flies to 9 domestic destinations and 5 international routes via the Ninoy Aquino International Airport as well as hubs in Kalibo and Cebu.

Last May, Malaysia's AirAsia Berhad, through local unit Philippines’ AirAsia Inc., completed a deal with Zest Air.

AirAsia, which controls 40% of Philippines’ AirAsia, acquired an 85% economic interest and 49% voting rights in Zest Air as well as a 100 percent interest in Yao’s Asiawide Airways Inc.

Full refund

Zest Air Director Joy Caneba said it will offer full refund to passengers who were affected by the suspension.

However, Caneba noted that the airline firm expects that the safety issues will be resolved by next week, and affected passengers can also choose to reschedule their flights.

Caneba refuted CAAP’s claims that the airline neglected to resolve safety issues, saying most have already been addressed.

“We should have been given enough time and due process to answer all the issues that were raised. Most of the items in the letter, we feel that we have already addressed them,” Caneba told ANC’s “Prime Time”.

Caneba assured the public that all of Zest Air’s aircrafts are safe, and the firm “voluntarily grounded” several of its aircrafts in the past weeks for the safety of passengers.

In July alone, Zest Air cancelled a total of 33 flights.

She also said none of the pilots of the airline have exceeded flying hours, contrary to the claims of CAAP. She said Zest Air will present logs to aviation officials on Monday.

Caneba added that they will also serve the official notice to CAAP on Monday regarding the airline’s accountable manager, who should be approved by CAAP.

The airline’s owner, Alfredo Yao, will assume the position.

In a statement, Zest Air said it was surprised that the suspension was issued without being given “an opportunity to properly respond to their issues raised.”

“The management of Zest Air have been in full cooperation with CAAP in ensuring that the maintenance programs and policies of Zest Air are in place. All findings in CAAP’s letter have already been appropriately addressed and we believe that they do not merit suspension and grounding of our operations,” the firm said.

Zest Air also said it will submit to the CAAP a copy of the comprehensive improvement program that the airline is currently implementing.

“We have been investing significantly in our operations and fleet to further raise the standards of excellence across all aspects of personnel, parts, and maintenance/technical services,” the airline said.