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Aviation Safety, Good Governance, and Jesse Robredo’s Last Flight

Exactly two years ago, the country lost one of its champions of good governance. Jesse Robredo, who is remembered to be the mayor of Naga City who wore slippers in his office, died in an air crash. Unfortunately, his death can be linked to the importance of good governance, an advocacy to which he had dedicated most of his life.

On August 18, 2012, then Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo was on his way back to Naga from a speaking engagement in Cebu. In a hurry to witness his daughter’s awarding for a sporting event, Robredo opted to take an air taxi despite having a booked commercial flight.

He took a chartered flight with Cebu-based Aviatour Air. He and his aide, Police Senior Inspector June Paolo Abrazado, boarded a chartered Piper Seneca with tail number RP-C4431. The plane left Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) at 3:07 p.m. bound for Naga City. It was flown by Capt. Jessup Bahinting, owner and president of Aviatour, and co-piloted by Kshitiz Chand, a Nepalese student pilot. After 23 minutes on the air, one of the plane’s propeller engines encountered a problem.

Instead of turning back to MCIA, the pilot decided to continue to Naga. Though one engine was encountering problems, both engines were still operational and remained so for another 37 minutes. The decision proved futile because if the plane had turned around, it would have made it back to MCIA, which was nearer than Naga. Also noteworthy is that compared to Naga and Masbate airports, MCIA has modern navigation and communication equipment, longer runway, and emergency response units.

At around 4:30 p.m., the pilots attempted to make an emergency landing in Masbate Airport. But the plane crashed on the water just 500 meters away from the runway.

Abrazado survived the crash and was immediately rescued by fishermen. Robredo, Bahinting, and Chand went missing. Immediately, a massive search and rescue operation was organized to locate the missing three.

But on August 21, 2012, technical divers were able to find the lifeless bodies of Robredo and the two pilots in the fuselage of the crashed plane. The wreckage was found 800 meters from the runway, 180 feet under water.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) immediately started an investigation and found that the crash was caused by pilot error and bad maintenance. On pilot error, the investigation report said that “Bahinting improperly handled a 1-engine inoperative emergency.”

But looking more deeply, investigators found that the engine problem that led to the crash was caused by parts failure attributed to bad maintenance. CAAP emphasized that Aviatour was not certified by the agency and the aircraft manufacturer to conduct maintenance on the Piper Seneca aircraft.

The investigation also found that the air worthiness inspector cleared the aircraft and issued an AW certificate without an actual flight test. The report pointed out that this led to bad maintenance practices which include aircraft maintenance without proper certification from CAAP. The AW inspector was immediately suspended. The report also said that management connived with the inspector to expedite the processing and approval of the Certificate of Airworthiness.

In the end, aside from pilot error, bad corporate practice by the company and corruption in acquiring proper aviation clearance doomed the plane which carried Robredo. This shows that corruption and bad governance, not just in the aviation sector, can kill.

Two years ago, the country lost one of its well-loved public servants, a champion of good governance. In the case of aviation safety, corruption and the lack of good governance can kill. This goes to both the CAAP and aviation operators in the country. Jesse Robredo’s leadership is a hallmark of good governance and his untimely death a testament to its importance.