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European Union lifts safety ban on Philippine Airlines

MANILA--The European Union has lifted a three-year ban on Philippine Airlines flying into its airspace after the national carrier addressed safety concerns, the EU's ambassador to Manila said Wednesday.

PAL will be allowed to fly into the 28-member bloc from Friday, which will spur tourism and business links, ambassador Guy Ledoux said.

“This is a tremendous achievement in such a short period of time,” Ledoux said.

He added that the EU would conduct further reviews so other Philippine carriers would also be able to fly to Europe as well.

“This decision is very encouraging and is the first success of CAAP (Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines) and Philippine Airlines,” he told reporters.

“EU-Philippines trade and investment relations will benefit from the lifting of the air ban,” Ledoux added.

He remarked that even without direct flights, European tourist arrivals to the Philippines rose by about 10 percent last year to 349,000 and expressed hope that the lifting of the ban would boost this even further.

CAAP director-general William Hotchkiss said raising safety standards had required “superhuman effort” including recruiting veteran talent.

He also expressed confidence that by the end of the year, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration would lift a similar ban that restricts Philippine carriers from expanding operations to the United States.

PAL President Ramong Ang told reporters at a joint press conference with Ledoux that the carrier planned to begin flights to London, Paris, Rome and Amsterdam by September or October.

He said PAL could compete with lower-cost Mideast airlines in serving those routes because it would offer non-stop flights.

PAL is already entitled to seven flights a week to London and at least six flights a week to Paris, Ang said.

He said the airline would enter into negotiations for the other destinations.

Ledoux said the safety ban on other Philippine carriers may also be lifted amid a general improvement in the country's aviation standards and positive work by the CAAP.

However he said that the EU ban on Cebu Pacific, a second major Philippine carrier, had been maintained because of an incident last month where a Cebu Pacific plane skidded off a runway while landing in the southern Philippine city of Davao.

He said this “unfortunate recent accident in June ... shows some weaknesses need to be addressed.”

None of the 165 people aboard the plane were hurt but CAAP later suspended the two pilots involved and harshly criticized Cebu Pacific for safety lapses.

Ledoux said the European Commission was encouraged by the actions being taken by CAAP and Philippines air carriers to address outstanding safety issues and would continue to monitor the situation closely.

Cebu Pacific said in a statement that it hoped to take part in the next EU air safety commission meeting later this year and continues to look at opening services to “parts of Europe and the U.S.”

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