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Philippines aviation safety chief quits after argument with President Aquino

MANILA, December 21, 2010 (AFP) – The Philippines’ chief aviation regulator has abruptly quit, the government said Tuesday, after he blamed President Benigno Aquino for keeping the country on an international flight safety blacklist.

Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines director-general Alfonso Cusi tendered his resignation effective December 31.

“This will give your excellency a free hand to choose a new director-general who will continue to carry out the needed reforms… and to whom the administration can give its full trust and confidence,” he said in his letter.

Cusi last month blamed Aquino’s appointment of allies to key posts in his agency for the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO’s) reluctance to remove the Philippines from countries deemed to have unsafe aviation.

The ICAO move is deemed necessary to get the US Federal Aviation Administration to remove the Philippines from its “Category 2″ status that had prevented the country’s carriers from expanding US services.

In March this year the European Union also banned Philippine carriers on safety grounds.

United States and EU aviation regulators take guidance from the ICAO.

Following the FAA downgrade the Philippine parliament passed a law creating a professional aviation regulatory body. The Philippine president at the time, Gloria Arroyo, named Cusi as its first chief.

Last month, Cusi said he received an ICAO letter expressing concern that the Philippine aviation reforms could be sidetracked by purported political interference after President Aquino came to power in July.

ICAO has since shelved a December 7 inspection mission to Manila.

Aquino spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the president has accepted Cusi’s resignation and named the deputy director, Ramon Gutierrez, as his temporary replacement.

“The government can now move faster in getting our country out of Category 2,” Lacierda told reporters.

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