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NAIA clears runway, 165 flights resume

A CHINESE plane that slid off the runway at Manila airport Thursday night has been removed from the muddy spot where it had been stuck for more than a day, officials said, allowing normal operations to resume on Saturday.

Around 165 international and local flights were canceled on Friday and Saturday at the Philippine capital’s main airport after the plane’s bumpy landing, said airport media officer Connie Bungag.

In related developments:

• Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said the Xiamen plane tragedy that caused the temporary closure of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport runway and inconvenienced airline passengers served as an “eye-opener” for airport authorities.

“This incident served as an eye-opener—a reminder for us to take a second look at the processes, procedures, and protocols of concerned agencies, as well as airlines, so that we may all improve in the future,” said Tugade, who apologized for the entire DoTR family.

STORM HAS PASSED. A Xiamen Air Boeing 737-800 series passenger aircraft, operating as MF8667 from Xiamen to Manila, lies (above) at the Naia runway after skidding off while attempting to land in bad weather Thursday night. By Saturday, after 36 hours, the plane was removed from the spot, allowing normal operations and flights for stranded passengers (below). The 157 passengers and crew aboard the Xiamen plane were able to disembark without suffering any injuries. AFP

• The pilot of the Chinese plane has been barred from leaving the country, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said.

The pilot has been asked to appear before the CAAP on Monday, Aug. 20, as part of the agency’s investigation, CAAP Spokesperson Eric Apolonio told dzMM radio in a newscast beamed nationwide.

Aviation authorities will have to “determine if the incident was force majeure or was due to pilot error,” Apolonio said.

• An opposition lawmaker said the widespread flight disruptions at Naia following the Thursday runway mishap had shown the importance of developing Clark International Airport in Pampanga as an alternate gateway.

“We are all for the continuous upgrading and expansion of Clark so that it can easily accommodate a greater number of international as well as domestic flights,”  Makati City Rep. Luis Campos Jr. said in a statement.

“We really have to build up Clark to decongest the NAIA, which is bursting at the seams in terms of aircraft and passenger traffic,” Campos, a deputy minority leader, said.

The Xiamen Airlines aircraft landed on its second attempt before skidding onto the grass, ripping off its left engine and blocking the runway late Thursday evening.

The 157 passengers and eight crew aboard were able to disembark without suffering any major injuries.

Moving the plane was complicated by heavy rains that softened the ground, making it difficult to install the two cranes needed to lift the aircraft, officials said.

By noon on Saturday, flights had resumed their normal schedule, but some passengers were not impressed by the speed of the recovery operation.

“At last,” tweeted one disgruntled observer. “That’s a record 36 hours.”

Apolonio said investigators had recovered the plane’s black box and flight data recorder and would be summoning the pilots next week to find the cause of the mishap.

The airport will schedule special flights after midnight to make up for some of the flights that were cancelled earlier, Bungag told AFP. 

The Department of Transportation is already spending P2.74 billion this year to further modernize Clark, according to Campos, a member of the House appropriations committee. 

“In fact, Clark already has an Instrument Landing System that makes it possible for the primary runway to handle flights after 6 pm,” Campos said.

The ILS enables pilots to conduct a fully automated or instrument approach to landing if they are unable to establish visual contact with the runway, for example, at night or during poor weather conditions.

Philippine Airlines flights from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, Busan, Seoul and Melbourne and Cebu Pacific flights from Singapore and Incheon were redirected to Clark Friday, after the Xiamen Air jet had a “runway excursion” at the Naia upon landing midnight Thursday and got jammed in a muddy field.

For almost 36 hours, the Naia’s primary runway for twin-aisle aircraft was shut down, leaving the country’s busiest airport operating only with the secondary runway for single-aisle planes.

Some 230 international and domestic flights in and out Naia were either cancelled, delayed or redirected on Friday alone. 

Now operating night and day, Clark handled 7,709 domestic flight arrivals and departures that moved 647,929 passengers from January to June this year.

In the same six-month period, Clark also handled 4,094 international flights and departures that conveyed 644,422 passengers. With AFP

Topics: Ninoy Aquino International Airport , NAIA runway , Xiamen Air Boeing 737-800 , Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines , CAAP
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