Zest Air's entire fleet of aircraft was grounded following technical problems

Low-cost air carriers under scrutiny

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines is keeping a close watch on low-cost airlines operating across the country following safety oversights by one carrier that resulted in it being grounded for a week.

CAAP immediately grounded Zest Air’s entire fleet of 10 Airbus A320s and one A319 after eight scheduled flights out of Manila were cancelled in a single day because of technical problems affecting five separate aircraft.

CAAP director general John Andrews said the regulatory body had been monitoring Zest Air for a few weeks and was left with no choice but to suspend the airline’s air-operating certificate (AOC) due to safety concerns.

Investigations revealed that Zest Air was operating without a safety manager after the previous incumbent left, despite being issued with a directive and given 10 days grace to fill the vacancy.

Two operating crew had failed to check the aircraft’s tech log and route weather before a flight while an aircraft mechanic failed to produce his licence when asked by CAAP inspectors during ramp inspection. Fuel overflow on two aircraft at Kalibo International Airport was reported on 22 July and 9 August, while on 14 August at Tagbilaran Airport in Bohol the airline was found to be refuelling an aircraft with passengers on board. On the same day another aircraft was grounded at Tagbilaran because of a missing fuel coupling. Andrews said the coupling had been missing from the aircraft for a good four months.

CAAP’s investigations also found that some Zest Air pilots had exceeded the maximum 100 flying hours a month set by the regulator. “The carrier does not have procedures in place to monitor the flying hours limitation of its pilots,” Andrews said.

Zest Air director Joy Caneba dismissed CAAP claims, saying the airline was not given sufficient time to respond and rectify any of the issues raised by the regulator.

Andrews insisted that CAAP will not tolerate any safety oversights by any airline. “The suspension of Zest Air’s AOC should be a warning to other carriers,” he stated.

Zest Air has a network of seven international and nine domestic destinations. The airline started operations as Asian Spirit in 1996 but was rebranded in 2008 following its takeover by AMY Holdings Corporation, headed by businessman Alfredo M Yao. It was reputedly named after the fruit juice, Zest, produced by AMY.

In March 2013 Air Asia Philippines (AAP) acquired a 49 per cent stake in Zest Air through a share-swap deal while Yao purchased 15 per cent equity in AAP. Both carriers are unlisted.

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