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US Upgrades Philippines Civil Aviation Status

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The US FAA has upgraded the civil aviation status of the Philippines to let its airlines operate new direct flights to the United States while the European Union lifted a ban on Cebu Pacific Air.

The US Federal Aviation Administration's upgrade to category 1 followed a downgrade to category 2 in 2008 because the Philippines lacked oversight laws for air carriers and fell short of international safety standards.

National carrier Philippine Airlines continued to fly to the United States despite the 2008 downgrade, but it has been limited to 28 flights a week to four US destinations and only with certain aircraft.

Hours after the FAA announcement, the European Union took Cebu Pacific Air, the country's biggest carrier in terms of passenger numbers, off a list of banned airlines

"The good news doesn't end there," Julian Vassallo of the European Commission told a news conference in Manila.

"The European Commission is likely to mount another assessment mission to the Philippines later in the year to assess Philippine aviation as a whole, including internal aviation, with the prospect of lifting the ban on Philippine aviation as a whole."

Philippine Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya said in a statement the FAA upgrade "cements a landmark era in the Philippine aviation sector".

The Philippines created an independent regulatory body in March 2008, soon after the FAA downgrade, and pulled its standards into line with international norms set by ICAO.

Abaya said the upgrade would have a significant impact on the Philippines' economy by allowing its airlines to add direct flights with the United States, boosting tourism and trade.

All Philippine carriers may now apply for flights to the United States, said John Andrews of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines.

"There are no more restrictions," he said in a television interview. "We are now world-class as far as the aviation industry is concerned."

For example, Philippine Airlines will be able to launch more routes, and increase the number of its flights to the United States.

Cebu Pacific Air carries more than 40 million passengers a year to domestic and several Asian destinations.

"With the lifting of the EU ban, this network is about to get even bigger," said Lance Gokongwie, Cebu Pacific Air's chief executive.

Gokongwie said Cebu Pacific Air would take delivery of about 50 Airbus aircraft up to 2021, to allow the airline to add more destinations, open more routes and increase its flights.

The FAA said the Philippines had to maintain its category 1 rating by sticking to safety standards set by the ICAO, which sets international standards and practices for aircraft operations and maintenance.

(Reuters)