Travel agencies welcome FAA Cat 1 ruling, hopeful for more direct flights to PHL

Are we going to see direct flights from the East Coast soon?

Are we going to see direct flights from the East Coast soon?

By Maricar CP Hampton

Travel agents welcomed reports that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has restored Category1 rating to the Philippines meaning the country is up to speed with aviation safety and standards.

While the travel executives are optimistic the ruling would likely open up more direct flights between the U.S. and Manila, they also said the decision would not affect their business in any way.

“I hope with this positive development, Philippine Airlines will expand their routes to the East Coast specifically here in our region,” said Helen Viray of KY Fare Travel and Tours.

For Travel Outlet Vice President Naomi Estaris, it’s all about giving her clients more options.

“We will now have foreign carriers like the Philippine air carrier to be able to come in domestically where before, our clients want a foreign carrier but it wasn’t an option for them,” she told The FilAm Metro D.C. “Some of them want better customer service and better food. With foreign carriers the customer service is outstanding especially the Asian carriers.”

For six years the Philippines has been languishing in Category 2 for failing to meet international aviation safety standards. The rating says a country either lacks laws or regulations necessary to oversee air carriers or that its civil aviation authority is deficient.

Travel agency executives said this has hardly affected their business.

“Filipinos never stayed away from going home because of that rating,” said Carl Abella, president of the Maryland-based Alpha Travel Services. “It never bothered people, not once in those six years did a passenger mention that he is not going home because of the rating.”

Echoed Viray, “As a travel agent I have had no problem with ratings whether we are number 1 or number 2.”

Philippine Airlines

Philippine Airlines

While the FAA announcement is a positive development for the Philippines, the airline industry is more focused on meeting the standards of the International Airline Transport Association (IATA), said Abella.

“(As an IATA member) you have comply with the international criteria like for maintenance, pilots, crews and others, otherwise, they will not only be downgraded but they will be taken off IATA list,” he explained.

The FAA restored the Philippines’s Category 1 rating based on recommendations from the International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) report in March. The IASA is a unit of the FAA. According to its website, it focuses on a “country’s ability, not the individual air carrier, to adhere to international standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance established by the United Nation’s technical agency for aviation.”

IATA, on the other hand, is a trade association of more than 200 foreign carriers.

With the restoration of the Category 1 rating, Philippine carriers, like Philippine Airlines, may now initiate plans to expand routes or enter into code-sharing arrangements with American airlines.

“Our flag carriers can now push through with their plans to expand their operations and serve our people in various parts of the United States,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement.

Estaris whose office is based in Virginia Beach suggested certain direct flights within the East Coast for Philippine Airlines to explore.

“We would like to see more options with Washington D.C., New Jersey, New York as initial stops and hopefully more stops even to Florida,” she said. “I’m hoping that they move quickly to prove that they are a better carrier.”

She said direct flights with the same carrier is always convenient for the traveler.

“You have that baggage going all the way through. It’s more convenient especially for elderly clients. It makes the travel much more pleasurable, and that’s what we want them to have,” she said.

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