The Palace said Monday it will seek more than an apology from those responsible for the Xiamen Airlines jet that overshot the main runway at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and that paralyzed operations there for two days.
“We’re now conducting an investigation if there’s any liability on the part of the Xiamen pilot. That’s why he has been asked not to leave the country. That’s part of an ongoing investigation,” said Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque in a Palace press briefing Monday.
Roque said transportation officials should not be held responsible as the public apology of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade is already enough.
“Secretary Tugade has already apologized and maybe that counts for something, that no less than the Secretary of Transportation has publicly apologized for the inconvenience caused to the public. Although, it was not the airport official himself that caused the inconvenience; it was the Xiamen Air incident,” Roque said.
Roque, who was also affected by the runway closure, said flights should have been canceled right away.
“Perhaps, we should look into contingencies,” he said. “It only got chaotic because of the several flights which could have been canceled, but they told the passengers to wait. My flight, for example, I waited for seven hours. They should have canceled it, so I could go back to the President.”
“Both the airlines and the airport authorities should already decide to cancel flights so as not to cramp people in the airport,” he added.
Roque said ongoing projects are expected to address the vulnerability of Manila’s airport infrastructure, which the Xiamen Airlines accident highlighted.
Airport and aviation official, meanwhile, said the clearing of the runway took 36 hours because they were concerned about safety.
“We have to apply the proper procedure. We have guidelines and protocols there. Safety is our priority. What if something happened to the aircraft, like what if it exploded? What will happen now to our personnel?” said Eddie Monreal, general manager of the Manila International Airport Authority.
The MIAA chief also explained that the “aircraft recovery is the responsibility of the airline operator, however, if the incident will take its toll on airport operation the airport authority may come in to mitigate the effect on flight operations.”
Asked if there is a need to change or review policy or protocol on retrieval operations and to prevent incidents similar to what happened to the Xiamen Airlines plane, Monreal said, “There is none.”
“We have to understand the situation there and what had really happened during the retrieval. There were instances in other countries that they made that kind of operation for at least four days,” he said.
The MIAA had invited Xiamen Airlines officials to appear during the press conference Monday afternoon, but they refused.
“I had a delegation from Xiamen Airlines this morning. They extended their sincerest apologies for incident. However, I suggested to them that they should come up with a statement to the Filipino people who were affected,” said Monreal.
In a statement posted on Facebook, Che Shanglun, chairman of Xiamen Airlines said:
“After the runway excursion incident of Xiamen Airlines’ MF8667 flight, Manila Airport made huge efforts to assist us in accommodating the passengers and also helped us to move the plane away from the runway. Many thanks to Manila Airport for its great help provided to Xiamen Airlines during the process.”
“Continuous storms have rendered it extremely difficult to move the plane, causing the main runway of Manila Airport to be closed for over 32 hours and leaving many flights delayed and passengers stranded. Xiamen Airlines sincerely apologizes to all passengers affected by the incident and will do everything in its power to help these passengers.”
“We are currently cooperating with the Civil Aviation Authority of Philippines and the Civil Aviation Administration of China to investigate into the cause of the incident. In the meantime, all Xiamen Airlines’ flights to Philippines will operate normally to transport passengers.”
CAAP is investigating the case.
CAAP director general Jim Sydiongco said the Xiamen Airlines crew and officials have been summoned to shed light on the incident.
“The CAAP would like to assure the public that we are closely working together with MIAA, the Civil Aeronautics Board and the airline operators in creating pro-active measures in order to prevent an event like this from happening,” said Sydiongco.
Initial investigation showed that on Aug. 16, about 11:55 p.m., the plane (Boeing 737-800 type of aircraft with Registry No. B-5498) with 157 passengers and eight crew on board overshot the runway during landing in Manila, said CAAP deputy director general for operations Don Mendoza.
As it continued to move forward, the aircraft hit several runway lights and the tire was separated from the nose landing gear, followed by the left main landing gear and left the engine.
“The aircraft settled in an upright position when it stopped,” he said.
“The Pilot in Command (PIC) or the captain is a Korean male, who is 50 years old and has a grand total time of 16,000 flying hours with 7,000 hours on the Boeing 737-800 aircraft type. The First Officer or the co-pilot is a Chinese male, 28 years old, with a grand total time of 950 flying hours and 750 hours on the Boeing 737-800 aircraft type.”
“The pilots sustained no injuries; however, both were required to undergo post-flight accident medical examination by the CAAP.”
“The result of the drug tests were negative. We still await the result of the alcohol tests because it would take a long process, but we expect to have the results today. As we speak, there is an ongoing investigation and interview with the pilots and the cabin crew,” said Mendoza.
According to Monreal, the MIAA logged in about 681 flights that came and departed since the Naia main runway reopened Saturday.
A pro-administration lawmaker on Monday said airport and transport officials should resign for failing to clear the Xiamen Airlines mess quickly.
“Heads will roll here, we cannot be just an international embarrassment. Those running the airport should be held accountable administratively, civilly, if not criminally. An in-depth and comprehensive investigation should be done to avoid another similar incident,” said Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo.
Castelo said the Xiamen accident showed how transport, airport and aviation officials were caught unprepared for the worst-case situation.
“The lack of foresight, absence of contingency and the unavailability of crane, and no emergency plan should be addressed now,” said Castelo.
Senator Grace Poe on Monday said she would summon Tugade and officials of Xiamen Airlines, among others, as she filed a Senate resolution to conduct a full-blown investigation into the incident.
Also to be summoned are the airport’s service providers and the head of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation since the agency has a proposal to build on their lot another runway for the airport instead of a casino.
In her resolution, Poe pointed to the “airport paralysis” and the flight cancellations that affected thousands of passengers.
Slow action by airport authorities, she added, showed a lack of efficiency and compassion for the people.
“Since Naia is the Philippines’ gateway to the world, the runway mishap brings a lot of questions: Don’t we have the protocols, needed equipment and manpower to address these kinds of incident? Do we really need at least 36 hours or 1 and 1/2 days to clear our runways?” she asked.
Poe said authorities who should have been on top of the situation have a lot of explaining to do.
She added that the incident only showed how the country’s main gateway was ill-equipped to handle such a crisis.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III renewed his call to “go full blast” with the development of other air transport hubs such as the Clark International Airport.
“We can’t dillydally anymore. I made the same call in 2016. Let’s not wait for another airplane incident which hassled thousands of passengers to realize there should be an urgent and comprehensive government plan to decongest the Naia.”
“We require two airports as our main international gateways. Naia can serve South Metro Manila and Southern Luzon to Bicol, and Clark can address the needs of passengers from North Metro Manila and Northern Philippines. Both hubs may share handling of travel and logistics flow to the Visayas and Mindanao,” Pimentel said.
The underutilized airport in the former US military base at Clark in Pampanga has an area of 2,367 hectares, compared to Naia’s 700 hectares, he said.
Senator Richard J. Gordon said the latest incident at Naia drove home the need to speed up the reopening of the Subic Bay International Airport.
Gordon pointed out that if the SBIA was already operational, flights could have been diverted to both SBIA and Clark International Airport, which would have mitigated the effects of the closure of Naia’s main runway last Aug. 17.
Senator Francis Escudero on Monday called on the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to provide assistance to Filipino migrant workers gravely affected by the chaos at the airport.
Escudero noted that it is within the rights of the passengers to be compensated for the trouble that the mishap has caused, particularly to the overseas Filipino workers, who now fear losing their jobs for not being able to return to their countries of employment on time.
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