Philippine president Gloria Arroyo has approved the establishment of a new aviation safety oversight body, in line with the country's efforts to reclaim a Category 1 safety rating from the US Federal Aviation Administration.

Arroyo has signed into law the Civil Aviation Authority Act of 2008, which will see the existing Air Transportation Office replaced by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).

The Philippine Information Agency says the CAAP is to be set up in the coming months and it will be "an independent regulatory body with quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative powers with corporate attributes".

The authority is intended to be more independent and accountable than the ATO to "strengthen the international framework of the country's civil aviation industry and meet the standards set" by ICAO, the agency adds. Importantly, the new body will be entitled to retain its revenue and use it to improve industry standards, rather than hand it over to the government as the ATO currently does.

The government hopes the establishment of the CAAP will help it win back a Category 1 aviation safety rating. The country's safety rating was downgraded to Category 2 under the FAA's International Aviation Safety Assessment programme in January. The FAA said at the time that it had "serious concerns" about the ATO's oversight of the local industry.

Days after the downgrade Arroyo replaced the head of the ATO and ordered his replacement to improve the country's safety standards within three months. The government had for some time been planning to establish the CAAP but there had been delays related in part to the drafting of legislation.

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