Philippines’ Zest Air Wins CAA Reprieve

 - August 26, 2013, 11:55 AM
Zest Air’s 11 A320-series narrowbodies have returned to service following reinstatement of its operating license by the Filipino CAA. (Photo: Peter Villamer Sanchez)

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) reinstated low-far carrier Zest Air’s operating certificate last Tuesday following a four-day suspension triggered by a series of alleged safety oversights. Zest Air, whose ownership structure includes a 49-percent stake held by Malaysia’s Air Asia, returned to service four of its 11 Airbus A320-series narrowbodies as of August 22 and hoped to resume a full schedule by the end of the week, following clearance by CAAP inspectors.

Zest Air director Joy Caneba said the CAAP would release the remaining six A320s and one A319 only after its inspectors resolved some “open issues,” on which he declined to elaborate. “We expect to resume full operations as soon as the checks are completed but this will depend on whether flooding in many parts of the Philippines caused by tropical storms subsides,” he said.

The CAAP grounded Zest Air almost immediately after eight flights failed to take off from Manila on August 16 due to what it described as technical defects. CAAP investigations also revealed that the airline failed to employ a qualified safety manager despite being ordered on July 16 to fill the vacancy within 10 days.

Other offenses cited by the agency include the failure by two operating crew to check their tech log and weather before a flight and the failure of an aircraft mechanic to produce his license during a ramp inspection. The CAAP also received reports of fuel overflows on two aircraft at Kalibo International Airport in Aklan on July 22 and August 9. Subsequently, it found that the airline refueled an aircraft with passengers on board at Tagbilaran in Bohol on August 14, the same day on which the airline had to ground an airplane at Tagbilaran Airport due to a missing fuel coupling.

CAAP deputy director general John Andrews said the aircraft had operated with the missing fuel coupling since March.

The CAAP report released on the day of the suspension revealed that some of Zest Air’s pilots had exceeded 100 hours of flying per month–the maximum allowed by the CAAP.

“The carrier does not have procedures in place to monitor the flying hours limitation of pilots,” Andrews noted.

In a statement, Zest Air director Joy Caneba denied the CAAP claims, adding that the regulatory body did not give it sufficient time to respond.

“I would like to say that most of the issues raised in the report were looked into and addressed,” Caneba said.

After regaining its certificate, the airline issued another statement calling the CAAP’s action “unprecedented” and insisting that none of the “issues” raised by the agency involved safety oversights.

“We would like to reiterate that none of the issues raised by the regulatory authority against us pertain to the safety and reliability of our 11 aircraft, but were procedural and technical matters that have sufficiently been addressed,” it said.

Zest Air suffered two accidents involving Chinese-made MA-60s, in January and November 2009, both at Catlican Airport in the Philippine province of Aklan. One aircraft overshot the runway and the other landed short.

Majority owned by AMY Holdings, Zest Air started operations as Asian Spirit in 1996 and rebranded in April 2008. This March Air Asia Philippines (AAP) acquired its 49-percent stake in Zest Air through a share-swap deal, while AMY Holdings owner and chief executive officer Alfredo Yao bought a 15-percent equity position in AAP.

Zest Air operates a network of seven international and nine domestic destinations.