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Rescue team for missing Cessna allowed to go to Mayon — CAAP

The search and rescue team for the missing Cessna plane has received permission from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) to enter the vicinity of Mayon Volcano despite the Alert Level 2 raised in the area.

At a televised public briefing on Monday, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) spokesperson Eric Apolonio said the search and rescue team cannot just go to the volcano because the area is within the permanent danger zone (PDZ).

"So far, ngayon, ang pagkakaalam ko nakahingi na po ng permit sa PHIVOLCS kasi PDZ po yung site, so hindi basta makakapasok 'yung ating rescue team. But since nabigyan na po, magtutuloy na tayo sa pagpanhik," he said.

(So far, from what I know, the search and rescue team has already received a permit from PHIVOLCS since it's within the PDZ and we cannot just enter the area. Since we already have a permit, we can now proceed.)

However, Apolonio said there's still the challenge of possible heavy rains and flash floods because of the bad weather. 

According to Apolonio, investigators also have to go to the supposed crash site on the ground, not just through aerial inspection, to confirm if the debris found there was really from the missing aircraft.

The search and rescue operations for the missing Cessna plane will focus on the Mayon Volcano area, Camalig, Albay Mayor Carlos Irwin Baldo Jr. said on Monday.

Separate safety board 

At the same public briefing, Apolonio said they are waiting for legislation that will create a separate national safety board which will investigate aircraft crashes.

Apolonio was asked if the agency needs to impose a stricter policy on flying small aircrafts following reports of missing Cessna planes recently.

“Talaga po namang mandato yan [ng] CAAP. Kaya po talaga, hinihintay namin yung batas na maghihiwalay doon sa CAAP na NTSB, yung National Transportation Safety Board, para at least yun talaga ang specialization nila yun, mag-imbestiga soon sa mga nasabing aircraft crash,” he said.

(That’s really the mandate of CAAP. That is why we are waiting for the law that will separate NTSB from CAAP, because at least that is their specialization, to investigate aircraft crashes.)

Asked if all Cessna planes need to be suspended and inspected after the incidents, Apolonio pointed out that the treatment for commercial planes and military planes are different. For Air Force assets, similar units can be grounded.

“Dito po sa issue ng ating Cessna, marami kasing individual owner niyan at mostly mga flight school kaya hindi natin puwede basta nagkaroon ng issue sa isang Cessna operated by another company ay hindi puwedeng pahihintuin yung operations ng ibang aircraft,” he said.

(In the issue with Cessna, there are many individual owners and most of them are flight schools so we cannot just stop their operations because there is an issue with one aircraft operated by another company.)

Apolonio also admitted that the tracking and navigation systems in the country need to be improved. But he said it would need the assistance of the government.

On Saturday, CAAP said Bicol International Airport air traffic controllers lost contact with a Cessna 340 airplane carrying four people, including the pilot, crew, and two passengers. 

CAAP said the Cessna 340 (Caravan) aircraft with registry number RP-C2080 departed Bicol International Airport at 6:43 a.m.

Air traffic controllers last contacted the aircraft at 6:46 a.m., when the plane was approaching the Camalig Bypass Road at an altitude of 2,600 feet.

The plane was expected to arrive in Manila at 7:53 a.m.  

Report on NAIA glitch probe out next week

Meanwhile, Senator Grace Poe said she is eyeing to release the Senate public services committee's report on its investigation into the airspace shutdown last January 1 by next week.

In an interview with reporters, she said there are a confluence of factors that contributed to the glitch.

One of the main factors is the poor maintenance of the air traffic equipment which could be attributed to the possible negligence of past CAAP management.

While CAAP Director General Manuel Tamayo has identified an individual who was alleged to have been incompetent or negligent, Poe emphasized that the problem in the maintenance of the facilities is a "long-standing problem" that involved previous CAAP management.

"Hindi pa nila isinasama [sa CAAP report] kung in what capacity naging negligent or incompetent ang individual na yun. But remember ha, this is a long standing problem with the CAAP because this spans several administrations," Poe said.

"The fact that they were allowed to operate without having proper maintenance in the last three years is in itself a violation, is in itself incompetence or negligence on the part of the management of CAAP itself and not just individual...So even the past administration's management of CAAP could be held liable," she emphasized.

During the Senate investigation into the airspace shutdown, Tamayo said that the warranty for the communications, navigation, and surveillance/air traffic management (CNS/ATM) maintenance had already expired in 2020.

But Tamayo said they were already negotiating with French firm Thales Group to hire them as a third-party maintenance provider.

Philippine airspace effectively closed on New Year's Day due to technical issues at the CAAP's Philippine Air Traffic Management Center (ATMC).

At least 282 flights were canceled, diverted, or delayed, and some 56,000 passengers at NAIA were affected.— VAL/RSJ, GMA Integrated News