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EU partially lifts ban on entry of Philippine planes after Manila fixes safety concerns

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MANILA, Philippines - The European Union has partially lifted a ban on the entry of Philippine planes after aviation authorities in Manila addressed safety concerns, removing an obstacle to a robust flow of tourists and trade between Europe and the Southeast Asian nation, officials said Wednesday.

EU Ambassador to Manila Guy Ledoux said that the decision, which takes effect on Friday, will allow flag carrier Philippine Airlines to resume flights to Europe. More safety improvements will have to be made for other Philippine carriers, like budget airline Cebu Pacific Air, to follow, he said.

Philippine Airlines, which has recently acquired new long-haul Airbus aircraft, plans to resume flights to London, Paris, Rome and Amsterdam as early as September, company president Ramon Ang said at a news conference. He commended President Benigno Aquino III's government for dealing with significant safety issues that have hounded the country's aviation industry for years.

Cebu Pacific, the country's largest low-cost carrier, has complied with regulations and taken steps to deal with safety issues, but a recent accident involving one of its aircraft in southern Davao city revealed "some weaknesses" that still need to be addressed, Ledoux said.

The plane veered off the runway, and although no one was hurt, the aircraft was stuck on the runway for two days, and passengers complained that it took about 15 minutes for emergency slides to be deployed.

Philippine officials welcomed the EU decision. Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said it will "boost tourism, enhance competitiveness and facilitate the entry of investments from the eurozone."

Manila also expects the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to lift safety-linked restrictions later this year. Those restrictions have prohibited Philippine Airlines from expanding its flight operations in the United States and prevented other Manila-based carriers from opening air services to the U.S. mainland.

The European Commission banned all Philippine carriers from entering its airspace in March 2010 due to noncompliance with international safety standards.

The 2010 ban came after the International Civil Aviation Organization questioned whether Filipino aviation regulators could adequately ensure the safety of Philippine-registered airlines, and after the FAA downgraded the Philippines' safety rating. ICAO is the Montreal-based U.N. aviation safety agency.

John Andrews, deputy director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, said problems in his agency that had drawn concern, such as the lack of a database on all registered Philippine aircraft, have been corrected.

Ledoux, the EU ambassador, said Philippine authorities also are addressing corruption. He mentioned a Manila news report about a former Philippine aviation official who was indicted for providing licenses to student pilots who had failed aviation proficiency tests.

"Clearly this is an issue that needed to be addressed and has been addressed," Ledoux said.

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