Thursday, November 15, 2012

Negligence, collusion may have led to Robredo plane crash – CAAP official

The plane crash that killed Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo last August may have been a disaster waiting to happen after a similar incident earlier, involving the same air taxi company that flew Robredo, was brushed off by authorities. “A lot of things would not have happened if things were done properly,” Capt. John Andrews, deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), said Wednesday in an interview on GMA News TV’s “News To Go” program. “Unless we can stop the collusion between the regulatory body and the operators, the same things are going to happen again,” he warned. He was referring to a plane crash near Mambajao Airport in Camiguin last March that claimed the lives of its pilot and a Norwegian tourist. Three others, including an Indonesian co-pilot, were hurt in the incident that involved Aviatour Fly’N Inc., the same company that flew Robredo. “We have not fully investigated this (March crash) but there are a lot of anomalies regarding that particular crash,” Andrews revealed. “The aircraft did not have an airworthy certificate... [And] a student pilot was flying the aircraft with passengers,” he said. Phone calls to Aviatour for comment on the Camiguin incident went unanswered. The company, which is based in Mactan, Cebu, holds two licenses: an Air Operation Certificate that allows the company to offer charter services, and an Approved Training Organization license for its aviation school. After the crash last March, CAAP suspended Aviatour’s flying school permit because a student had served as co-pilot, but allowed the company to resume its air taxi services even though it utilized a training flight to carry paying passengers. Two months after the incident, however, the government lifted the suspension following an appeal from the Indonesian Embassy. Aviatour had some 80 Indonesian student pilots that had already paid their fees when the suspension on the school was imposed, according to news reports. Complete audit of flying schools Aviatour continued its operations until the crash in Masbate last August that claimed the lives of Robredo, pilot Jessup Bahinting who was also the owner and chief executive officer of the company, and Nepalese co-pilot Kshitiz Chand. Since then, Aviatour has been barred from continuing its air taxi and flying school services, as well as its maintenance operations. According to CAAP, the Robredo plane crash brought into the spotlight the lack of attention given to regulations for small airlines. “CAAP was very concerned with getting back to Category One [status on international aviation] so this other issue [of regulating small air taxi companies] was more or less left aside,” Andrews said. He said the agency is hiring more aircraft inspectors to augment its two personnel, who are required to conduct inspections every six months for more than 60 air taxi companies in the country. “We are going to do a complete audit of all the flying schools including air taxis and also maintenance organizations,” he added. The official said flying schools have mushroomed in the Philippines, where aviation education is proving to be “good business.” Aviatour ‘shocked’ On Wednesday, CAAP suspended aircraft inspector Fernando Abalos for allegedly faking a safety flight test for the Piper Seneca plane that flew Robredo. “We have created a committee to investigate all those involved because as far as we are concerned it is not only Abalos that would have been guilty with this. There are several steps that have to be taken [before] an aircraft is declared or cited as airworthy,” Andrews explained. Margaret Bahinting, Aviatour owner and wife of the pilot who died along with Robredo, has denied the alleged collusion between CAAP and the air taxi company. In a statement issued Tuesday, she said, “As to the issue of fraudulent collusion between Aviatour and CAAP official during the airworthiness release of the aircraft, we just have to admit that we are totally shocked and hurt for we are in any manner or form not knowledgeable to this kind of devious deal.” President Aquino had announced the results of the CAAP investigation on Tuesday, saying Robredo’s plane had been given a fake safety clearance and the air crash could have been prevented if proper regulatory and safety measures were in place. “Kung tama lang ang ginawa ng ilang tao, kung sinunod lang ang mga patakaran ng industriya, kung nanatili lang na matapat sa kanilang obligasyon ang ilang sangkot, tiyak pong naiwasan dapat ang nangyaring trahedya,” he said. “Hindi po pagbabatuhang-sisi ang gusto nating gawin; hangad natin ay katarungan, hindi lang para kay Jesse, kundi maging sa iba pang nasawi; hangad natin ay maiwasan na maulit ang ganitong pangyayari,” Aquino added. In response to the President’s message, Andrews vowed: “We are going to discover how far the graft and corruption in the department has reached and we will charge the people concerned.” – YA, GMA News