GrandAir has been forced to put on hold plans to fly to the USA by the Philippine regulatory authorities' continued failure to comply with the US Federal Aviation Administration's Category I safety requirements.

The airline and incumbent national carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) have been told that there can be no expansion of services to the USA until the country's Air Transportation Office (ATO) improves its oversight capability. The move effectively preserves PAL's monopoly on Philippine flights to the USA.

GrandAir wants to launch a daily service from Manila to Los Angeles or San Francisco and says that, under the US-Philippine air-services agreement, there are at least ten under-used frequencies. It claims to have located Boeing 747-200s and McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30s available for lease at 90-120 days notice.

ATO officials hope to show compliance with Cat I requirements before the end of the year, which, GrandAir says, would allow its first US service to be launched in early 1998. The FAA, however, appears more sceptical.

The FAA's safety-assessment team is visiting the Philippines every four to five months, with the last inspection in November 1996. At the root of the ATO's problem is a lack of resources to employ sufficient check pilots. To try to redress the shortage, the ATO has now recruited four former air-force transport pilots.

GrandAir, in the meantime, has been advised that the only way it can begin services to the USA ahead of Cat I being granted, is to wet-lease aircraft from an approved country. While PAL has resorted to this with McDonnell Douglas MD-11s from World Airways, GrandAir has ruled it out as uneconomical.

Source: Flight International