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At Large

High flyers

/ 12:11 AM December 07, 2016

His has been a “high-flying” career, and not just because he’s a pilot. Capt. Manuel Antonio “Skee” Tamayo has spent much of his career flying for Philippine Airlines, but that’s not the half of it. Captain Tamayo, who now heads the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, has, as he puts it, flown “six heads of state since Tita Cory.” And that list includes not just President Duterte but also Pope Francis, who was his passenger during that fateful trip to Tacloban.

If you will recall, when Captain Tamayo (he still retains the title) boarded the papal plane bound for Tacloban, there was a typhoon brewing in the vicinity, but it was far enough to ensure that the Pope would land in Tacloban safely. But later that morning, Tamayo got news that the typhoon was moving closer and could hit Tacloban in the afternoon. “So I had to talk to the Pope’s staff that we had no choice but to leave by noon if we wanted to be in Manila that evening.” And that’s why the Pope had to cut short his trip to Tacloban amid the high winds of the approaching typhoon.

Saving a pontiff from the dangers and tribulations of weather disturbances is part and parcel of a pilot’s job. As is securing the safety and comfort of the country’s presidents. But judging from his demeanor, it’s safe to assume that Tamayo has kept his calm and cool persona even as he flew the country’s most important officials, and even as he copes with the rising demands of the aviation sector, given the burgeoning number of tourists and travelers.

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Speaking of his high-profile VIPs (very important passengers), has Tamayo ever received a huge tip from them? He just smiles and shakes his head, although, he adds, Pope Francis did give him “many rosaries,” all blessed by the Pontiff, it is hoped.

Captain Tamayo was the guest at yesterday’s “Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel,” together with Ed Monreal, the new general manager of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Monreal shares much the same background as Tamayo, having served as a long-time executive with Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific. Their years of experience with airlines, it turns out, serve them well as they seek to move out of the welter of complications (and complaints) that bedeviled previous aviation authorities. “It was a challenge for me,” Monreal describes his attitude upon being invited by Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade to take on his post. He had retired from airline work, he disclosed, and his wife “had been egging me to take on a job because I was hanging out at home a lot.” And so far, he adds, he has no regrets about taking on the challenge.

With the country’s aviation industry, including its airlines and airports, upgraded to “Category 1” status some months back by international authorities, the challenge confronting the pair, they said, is “not just to maintain this status but even upgrade it.”

While ordinary travelers may demand nothing more than simple changes like shorter queues, cleaner restrooms and an end to the “tanim bala” or bullet-planting scam that became a full-blown scandal (now a thing of the past, it is hoped), both Tamayo and Monreal are working on more serious issues like security and safety.

For instance, the CAAP and Naia have recently installed a fully-functioning ILS or Instrument Landing System to ensure safer takeoffs and landings of aircraft in the country’s main gateway. Tamayo says they are also in the process of upgrading a satellite tracking system that would improve their ability to track airplanes flying above Philippine airspace. The fees paid by the airlines for use of this airspace, adds Tamayo, is “the CAAP’s biggest source of income.”

One of the Bulong ladies couldn’t resist commending the pair for “resisting the temptation to put the blame for all your problems on the previous administration.” Instead, they choose to focus on the job at hand, even commending steps carried out by their predecessors that make their jobs easier these days. As Monreal puts it: “We’re just here to work.”

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TAGS: Aviation, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, Ed Monreal, Manuel Antonio Tamayo, ninoy Aquino international airport, Pope Francis
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