Xiamen Airlines must pay the Manila International Airport Authority about P15 million for the recovery operation of its disabled aircraft that overshot the main runway of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Aug. 16.
“All we spent during the recovery operations will be charged to Xiamen Airlines,” MIAA general manager Eddie Monreal said Tuesday.
Monreal’s statement came as transport officials fended off criticism that the 36 hours taken to clear the runway was far too long, saying that “recovering a disabled aircraft is far different from towing a bus or a car.”
In an interview on the ANC news channel, Monreal said his agency replaced 14 units of edge lights that were damaged when the plane veered off the runway. This was done immediately, he said because the edge lights are important to guide pilots during takeoff and landing.
The crane used to lift the Boeing 737 jet off the runway and onto a flatbed cost more than P4 million to rent, Monreal said. Manpower and other equipment rentals brought the cost to about P15 million, he said.
Monreal also said it is up to the passengers or the airlines affected by the runway closure if they want to sue Xiamen Airlines for consequential damages. Dozens of flights were canceled or rerouted as a result of the runway closure, inconveniencing thousands of passengers.
At a press conference Monday, both Cebu Pacific Air and Philippine Airlines said they were considering filing a complaint against Xiamen Airlines for damages, revenue losses, and inconvenience brought about by the accident.
Xiamen Airlines has issued a public apology, and 11 officials visited Monreal’s office Monday to explain their side.
Cebu Pacific announced that its operations had returned to normal after three days of flight cancellations.
It said passengers on all domestic and international flights flying out of Naia Terminal 3 from Aug. 17 to Aug. 21 could still opt to rebook their flights within 30 days.
The airline reiterated that passengers whose flights were canceled may still avail of the following options, without penalties: Rebook flights for travel within 30 days from original date of departure; convert into a travel fund for future use; or get a full refund.
Philippine Airlines, however, announced Tuesday it was still experiencing difficulties operating some flights from Naia’s second runway and said there would be more delays before operations return to normal.
“We struggled to operate some flights from the second runway, Runway 13/31, which could accept smaller aircraft,” PAL said in an advisory.
Officials said there were still flight delays and cancellations as dozens of flights from different airlines switched to that runway, not to mention the strong tailwinds that required closing Runway 13/31 at times.
“We exerted all efforts to take care of affected passengers who, we recognize, had to endure uncertainty, long waits and discomfort. We acknowledge, however, that our efforts were not enough at some of the critical times. And for this, we sincerely apologize and we assure you that we will strive to do more and make the necessary improvements for the benefit of all,” PAL said.
“There is so much more to do and there will regrettably be some more delays and retiming of flights. But we will do what we can to minimize the inconvenience to our valued passengers,” it added.
Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation issued a statement Tuesday saying that removing a stalled aircraft off the runway was not easy.
“Recovering a disabled aircraft is far different from towing a bus or a car. There are technical protocols and intervening factors that all international airports observe in recovering a disabled aircraft,” the department statement said.
“Allow us to work first so that we can address the problem entirely. Accusing, sowing intrigues and maligning our offices and officials will not help at this time,” the department added.
“In the case of the recent Xiamen incident, please note that in addition to its size and weight, there were also four tons of unused fuel at the wings that are highly combustible, necessitating extra care to avoid fire or explosion. Apart from passengers, we also think about the safety of the rescuers,” the department said. “One false move, the plane might explode.”
The department said all procedures in the airport emergency plan on aircraft recovery were followed, but strong winds and heavy rains and the muddy terrain made recovery difficult.
In an interview with GMA-7, Monreal bristled at the criticism and asked: “What do you think is the standard reasonable time?”
“Nobody can say what a reasonable time is for any particular situation because that is unique to every situation,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English. “It depends on where the airplane went.”
An opposition lawmaker on Tuesday urged the Civil Aeronautics Board to look into possible violation of airline passenger rights when dozens of flights at Naia were canceled, delayed or redirected.
“Stranded passengers are entitled to certain amenities in case of terminal delay, even if it is due to force majeure or circumstances beyond the airline’s control,” Makati City Rep. Luis Campos Jr. said.
“In fact, there is an administrative order specifying those passenger rights as well as the obligations of carriers,” Campos, a deputy minority leader, said.
These include providing passengers with refreshment or meals, free phone calls, texts or e-mail and first aid if needed, and a rebooking or refunds.
Airlines are also supposed to provide customer service representatives who can address common problems, such as arranging for meals and hotel rooms for stranded passengers, settling denied boarding compensation, arranging luggage resolutions, and settling other routine claims or complaints on the spot.
“Airlines clearly have obligations. And the CAB should now ascertain which carriers lived up to their duties, and which of them neglected passengers during the Aug. 17-18 disorder,” Campos said.
Many passengers stuck at the terminal during the Naia mess had complained that nobody looked after them and that they were basically left to fend for themselves.
Campos said the CAB is also supposed to have “complaints and assistance desks” that would help passengers whose rights have not been fully satisfied by a carrier.