Airport officials are looking into possible sanctions against airlines that flew in 61 unauthorized make-up flights that caused further flight delays and hampered normal operations at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport after its main runway was reopened following a two-day closure.
Earlier, the Manila International Airport Authority reported that 61 unexpected flights landed at Naia from Aug. 18 to 19, resulting in further congestion, problems with gate assignment of planes and more flight delays.
Among those airlines was Xiamen Airlines, which caused the runway closure when its Boeing 737-800 missed its mark upon landing on Aug. 16. Airport officials said Xiamen had flown in four uncoordinated flights but did not say which other airlines were similarly guilty.
MAIA general manager Ed Monreal said Wednesday they were studying sanctions against the unspecified airlines, which had apparently coordinated with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, but not with MIAA.
In a statement, Senator Nancy Binay the entry of 61 unauthorized flights was “highly suspicious and anomalous” and exposed weaknesses in the country’s airport protocols and the lack of coordination among government agencies and the airlines.
“Last week’s incident pointed to a string of inadequacies and glaring lapses on the part of airport authorities and airline operators, which has a potential implication on national security,” she said.
Binay called on agencies under the Department of Transportation to explain the mysterious circumstances surrounding the 61 “uncoordinated” flights that added to the chaos at the airport.
She noted that even the Bureau of Immigration (BI) did not have enough personnel to handle diverted recovery flights in Clark International Airport prompting some airlines to return back to their original destinations after more than 10 hours of waiting at the tarmac.
The main runway closure on Aug. 16 affected at least 681 domestic and international flights and inconvenienced more than 136,000 passengers.
The main runway is used to accommodate all types of aircraft, while the secondary runway can only accommodate narrow-body aircraft. The mishap had a domino effect across all four Naia terminals, causing flights to be diverted, delayed or canceled.
Meanwhile, Philippine Airlines announced it has issued certifications addressed to immigration officials in Riyadh and Dammam concerning Filipino workers whose visas expired before they could travel after the runway closure.
“Passengers of canceled flights to the Middle East whose visas expired have been given PAL certifications indicating that they are returning with expired visas due to the force majeure situation,” said PAL corporate communications chief and spokesperson Ma. Cielo Villaluna.
A number of overseas Filipino workers earlier asked airlines and government officials to secure replacement flights before their reentry visas expired to prevent them from being sacked by their employers in their respective workplaces abroad.
On Wednesday, Monreal said the construction of an airport with two main runways would prevent a repeat of the Xiamen Airlines incident.
“The best basic solution is to construct an airport with at least two parallel runways, but they should be far apart for safety reasons. If there’s an incident like this one affecting the main runway, there will be another or alternate runway we can use,” he said.
Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said the incident was a reminder to revisit the Air Passengers Bill of Rights, review the intervention protocols between the airlines and the airport authorities, recast the airport’s equipment inventory, and enhance training to handle emergencies.
MIAA spent at least P15 million to remove the disabled plane from the runway in a retrieval operation that lasted 36 hours.
Also on Wednesday, personnel of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines--Aircraft Accident Investigation Board conducted an inspection of the incident site.
The investigation seeks to determine why the aircraft swerved to the grassy portion of the runway upon touchdown.
spokesman Eric Apolonio said the investigators went to the site for a second time to make a final analysis and recommendation before the black box and the flight recorder are brought to Singapore or Japan.
The Xiamen aircraft’s pilot said heavy rains obstructed his view of the runway during his first and second attempt to land.
But CAAP sources said a voice recording between the air traffic controller (Manila Control Tower) and pilots of Xiamen Airlines flight MF8667 indicated that there was no distress message, unusual conversation or any explanation from the pilot as to why he aborted his first attempt to land and their last conversation was 11:30 pm just before the plane skidded off the runway around 11:55 pm
The CAAP immediately secured the plane’s black box and flight data recorder, which contain the cockpit voice recording and data on the condition of the aircraft.
On Wednesday, the House committee on transportation said it will invite the pilots and officials of the Xiamen Airlines to its scheduled Sept. 5 inquiry to look into the accident at the Naia.
The panel’s chairman, Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento, said his panel will also invite officials of the Department of Transportation, MIAA, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, and the Civil Aeronautics Board.
This developed as Reps. Rodolfo Albano III of Isabela and Jericho Nograles of Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta Party-list on Wednesday cited the need for Congress to allocate funds for the purchase of modern rescue, lifting, and firefighting equipment for airports.
“The fact that it took us 36 hours to remove the plane showed just how unprepared we are for such situations. Had it been removed immediately, the number of ensuing flight cancellations would have been kept at a minimum and the impact of this incident controlled,” Nograles said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta and Maricel V. Cruz
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