The Philippine Air Force confirmed on Thursday that one of its recently delivered Embraer Super Tucano light attack aircraft was damaged during landing following a routine flight.
MaxDefense Philippines had first reported on Wednesday that its sources had informed them of a “recent” incident where a “high-ranking PAF unit commander used his rank and position to gain access and fly one of the PAF’s newest aircraft”. However, due to the commander’s lack of experience with the new aircraft, it was alleged that he had failed to safely land the aircraft, resulting in the aircraft being rendered inoperable pending repairs. The identity of the commander, their rank, and the aircraft type involved were not mentioned, although it was claimed that the PAF had been attempting to cover up the incident.
In an “open letter” posted on Facebook yesterday, the PAF released “important information” on the incident, confirming that one of its new Super Tucanos had been damaged on a routine maintenance Equipment Check Flight out of Clark Air Base. The PAF claimed that the pilot in command of the Super Tucano at the time of the incident was an Embraer instructor pilot, while the Wing Commander of the 15th Strike Wing was an observer for the flight. Neither individuals were injured as a result of the incident.
The PAF claimed that the Super Tucano had not been “damaged beyond economical repair” (despite the MaxDefense post never claiming that it was), saying that an assessment by Embraer had deemed the structural integrity of the aircraft to be “very much intact”. The PAF also claimed that the aircraft had not been selected for cannibalization pending full repairs, saying that Embraer aircraft technicians were preparing for travel to the Philippines alongside replacement parts to perform repairs, with all costs to be borne by Embraer.
The PAF denied that it and the government had been attempting to cover up the incident, claiming that PAF leadership had notified Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense of the incident the day it occurred. An investigation by the PAF and Embraer is said to have found that the Brazilian Embraer Instructor Pilot “failed to initiate a go-around and prevent a positive landing”, with Embraer considering the incident a “minor flight incident”. The PAF stressed that the contract with Embraer stated that the manufacturer would “assume full responsibility for the aircraft throughout the duration of the training period”, hence a requirement for Embraer instructors to be present on any Super Tucano training flight.
However, the 15th Strike Wing received a new commanding officer on the day of the open letter’s release. Brig. Gen. Aristotle Gonzalez replaced Brig. Gen. Araus Robert Musico as the commander of the 15th Strike Wing on July 8, with the latter being reassigned to lead Tactical Operations Wing Northern Luzon. PAF spokesperson Lt. Col. Maynard Mariano stated to the Phillipine Daily Inquirer that the change of command had no relation to whether Musico was involved in the incident, saying that both appointments had “long been scheduled”.
MaxDefense is now alleging that PAF leadership has ordered all personnel to share the open letter on their personal Facebook accounts. However, the site administrator thanked the PAF for the explanation of the incident supplied, “despite your post stating that I said things that I didn’t say”. The administrator added that it would be “more meaningful” for the PAF to focus on repairing the aircraft and improving its organization.
With the crash of a C-130H that killed 52 on Sunday, it is unsurprising that the Philippine Air Force feels the need to be on the defensive. However, the lack of transparency around this incident until Thursday highlights a need for greater transparency on flight incidents from the PAF, among other organizational issues.