CAAP suspends pilots of Cebu Pacific plane that veered off runway

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 June) – The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines has suspended the pilot and co-pilot of Cebu Pacific Flight 5J-971 that veered off the runway of the Davao International Airport on June 2 amid heavy rains,  caused the closure of the airport for 49 hours, left thousands of  passengers stranded or their flights diverted, and an estimated P250-million losses to the economy.

No sanctions were imposed on the cabin crew and the airline company, Cebu Pacific Air, but CAAP made several recommendations such as a random sampling of flight crew capabilities in unusual situations using the flight simulator.

CAAP Deputy Director General Capt. John Andrews announced in a press conference in Manila Tuesday that the pilot in command, Capt. Antonio Roel Oropesa, was suspended for six months while co-pilot, First Officer Edwin Perello, was suspended for three months.

After his suspension, Oropesa can resume flying but for a year he can only fly as co-pilot.

Andrews had announced in a press conference on June 4 that “pilot error” caused the mishap.

Citing Andrews, GMA News Online reported that based on the investigation conducted by CAAP’s Flight Standard and Inspectorate Service, “Oropesa failed to declare an emergency even after the plane had skidded off the runway.”

GMA Online quoted Andrews as saying that the two pilots did not follow the procedures for the “emergency evacuation demonstration” and “cockpit checklist procedure” in landing the plane, and failed to get the passengers out of harm’s way immediately.

“Major accident po ito. Ang sinasabi sa lahat ng manual namin (dapat) immediate evacuation, emergency evacuation. Ang ibig sabihin nito kailangang buksan ang mga emergency exits at saka mag-alisan ang mga pasahero within 90 seconds” (This was a major accident. The manual says there should have been an immediate evacuation, emergency evacuation. This means emergency exits should have been opened and passengers should have disembarked within 90 seconds), GMA Online quoted Andrews as saying.

Andrews told the ABS-CBN News Channel that in the event of zero visibility, as heavy rains poured just as the plane was about to land at around 7 p.m. on June 2,  the pilots should have tried another approach or landed in another airport.

No sanction

No sanction was imposed on the crew because CAAP said they merely “waited for orders from the pilot” but no order came.

Passengers of the ill-fated aircraft narrated staying inside the aircraft for nearly 30 minutes. The pilot also reportedly took a long time in coming out of the cabin to explain what was happening to the passengers. But only those in front could hear him.

Davao businessman John Gaisano, who was one of 165 persons on board Flight 5J-971 described the landing of Cebu Pacific Flight 5J-971 as “very rough” he thought they would die.

“We could have died when we landed,” Gaisano told MindaNews on June 3. He said he felt like “we did not land on the runway.”

“I think we landed on the soil,” he said.

Cebu Pacific statement

In  a statement, Cebu Pacific said they would “comply with all the recommendations” as indicated in the CAAP’s Notice of Decision.

“Safety has always been the highest priority for Cebu Pacific. We aim to provide the safest airline service possible for the millions of passengers who travel with us every year,” it said.

In a press statement on June 14, a day after another Cebu Pacific aircraft, Flight 5J-448 from Iloilo skidded off the runway of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and damaged five runway lights, Davao City’s 1st District Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles urged the Department of Transportation and Communication to “immediately mobilize the proper agencies to conduct a no-nonsense and transparent investigation so that the public will be made aware of what is really happening to Cebu Pacific.”

“We cannot wait for a more serious accident to happen. We are talking here about back-to-back mishaps happening in a span of a few weeks. These are tell-tale signs of grave danger to the public. It is time for DOTC and the full force of all its agencies to step in,” Nograles said.

Cebu Pacific’s June 25 statement noted that in addition to CAAP’s recommendations to them, the company has “commenced additional initiatives” such as enhancement of its current training curriculum “to include additional focus on wet runway landings, ‘go-arounds, specific training for inclement weather and non-precision approaches.”

The statement said they would also implement the “implementation of enhanced pilot training curriculum by Airbus standardized trainers at the Philippine Academy for Aviation Training (PAAT), the only facility in the country that belongs to the CAE-Airbus Training cooperation, and with two state-of-the-art full flight simulators.

Cebu Pacific also said they will submit to an “independent review of our flight operation systems and processes by Airbus Industries” and that Airbus will deploy a team of Safety, Flight Operations and Human Factor experts to Manila for this review. (MindaNews)