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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

New Year airport mess probed

NAIA admits 72 hours needed before flight situation returns to normal

Malacañang on Monday said concerned agencies are conducting a thorough investigation following the temporary shutdown of the country’s airspace on New Year’s Day.

STILL JAMPACKED. Passengers fill the check-in area at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 as they wait for further announcements after flights were cancelled due to technical issues with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) air navigation facilities on Sunday. Meanwhile, workers of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) give emergency aid, food, and water to those stranded at the airport over the last two days (below photos). Norman Cruz

“A thorough investigation is being conducted by appropriate agencies,” Office of the Press Secretary officer-in-charge Cheloy Garafil told reporters in a message.

The Philippines will need at least 72 hours to normalize incoming and outgoing flights, Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Cesar Chiong said.

“[NAIA is] not really fully (operational). Prior to yesterday, we accept about 20 arrivals per hour. Right now, we are only accepting 15 arrivals per hour, but there are no limits on the departures,” Chiong said in a television interview.

Aviation authorities are now investigating the air traffic management system glitch from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday that affected more than 360 flights and 65,000 passengers in Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) alone.

A team from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines-Aerodrome and Air Navigation Safety Oversight Office (CAAP-AANSOO) was tasked to investigate the incident.

“The main cause of the power supply problem is still being determined and is subject for investigation,” the CAAP said in a statement Monday.

Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) said it will need more than P13 billion to replace the outdated communication, navigation, and surveillance system that was the cause of massive flight cancellations at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) on Sunday and Monday.

“I mentioned this to the President, that we really need to have a backup system that is located in a different location that is not near the existing system,” Transportation Secretary Jaime J. Bautista said.

“We are studying it through a feasibility study and present this to NEDA (the National Economic and Development Authority) because it is an important system to have,” he added.

Senators, meanwhile, called for an investigation into the technical problems that triggered hundreds of cancellations and delays that affected almost 60,000 passengers.

Senators Grace Poe, JV Ejercito, and Jinggoy Estrada said an investigation should be done to avoid a recurrence of the chaos of the last few days.

Also on Monday, more flights in NAIA were canceled. Authorities had said flight operations returned to normal following the restoration of the Manila air traffic management system after aviation authorities successfully resolved the power outage problem that affected flights to, from, and within the Philippines.

Bautista said the existing Communications, Navigation and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management Systems Development (CNS-ATM) was funded by a loan from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) amounting to P13 billion.

“We will need more than P13 billion to replace the existing CNS-ATM,” he said.

Manuel Tamayo, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said the agency budgeted P124 million to upgrade the system this year.

The system was procured by the government in 2010 and was supposed to be completed in 2013 but the project was delayed and was only inaugurated on Jan. 16, 2018 and began operations on July 26, 2019.

Meanwhile, PLDT Inc. Chairman Manuel Pangilinan, who was among the thousands of air travelers affected by Sunday’s outage of the Air Traffic Management Center (ATMC), on Monday offered to collocate backup systems in the group’s data centers.

Pangilinan said the group would be happy to participate in the collocation of the second or even third redundancies in its nationwide data centers, as well as provide the required connectivity and redundant power supply protection.

Tamayo said one of the uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) failed at around 9:50 a.m. on Sunday, and troubleshooting had to be done. Backup systems were not immediately available.

Once the system was reconnected to the power supply, however, over-voltage warnings were released at around lunchtime.

This then affected the very small aperture terminal (VSAT), which also had to be addressed. The system was partially restored at 4 p.m. on Sunday, and operations have since resumed.

“Although the system was introduced in 2010 it was only implemented in 2018. So the system is in midlife and we need to improve or modernize it. Maybe we can use it but we need to upgrade this to a better system,” Bautista said.

The CNS/ATM project aims to enhance the safety, reliability, and efficiency of air traffic and airspace systems in the Philippines.

The country’s three domestic carriers said their passengers should expect more flight delays as they are carrying out recovery flights.

Philippine Airlines management said it will take some time for the airline to fully restore normal schedules “as we reposition aircraft that had been held back or diverted to other airports and adjust flight timings based on revised clearances in coordination with the local authorities.”

PAL said 244 flights, affecting 24,000 passengers, were affected by the outage of CNS-ATM last Sunday.

“Today, we are focusing on recovery fight operations into the Manila hub. These are the planes and passengers stranded in various international and domestic outstations,” Cielo Villaluna, PAL spokesperson said.

“We aim to complete the return of these flights to the Manila hub within the day. This creates a domino effect — in the form of flight delays for today’s flights as these planes are being assigned for flight duty today,” she added.

PAL suspended 17 domestic and five international flights in NAIA on Monday. These include flights to and from Davao, Cebu, Puerto Princesa, Legazpi, Dipolog, and Caticlan; and in Bali, Honolulu, and Los Angeles.

“We advise you to check the status of your journey before proceeding to the airport,” said PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna.

Villaluna reminded the travelers that a flight’s status is updated in real-time, and there is no need to call the PAL contact center to verify the information.

“We encourage you to continue monitoring the status of your flight using the Flight Status self-service tool on our website so that we can keep our contact center hotlines free of congestion,” she said.

“Please do not proceed to the airport if your flight is canceled, but instead, avail of the rebooking options,” she added.

Cebu Pacific Air (CEB) also made cancellations in NAIA affecting passengers going to and from Cebu. It also suspended its Cebu flight to Clark.

“Cebu Pacific continues to review its operations following the technical glitch. The system has been restored, however, available seats for immediate travel remain limited due to the peak travel period,” said CEB Corporate Communications Director Carmina Romero.

“We thank everyone for their patience and understanding as we work with the authorities to restore our network at the soonest time possible. We will provide updates as more information becomes available,” she added.

Philippines AirAsia said it is implementing additional flight adjustments through a recovery flight on Jan. 3 as the airline strives to normalize operations in all its airport destinations.

Manila International Airport Authority chief information officer Consuelo Bungag said airport personnel continued to provide food and kits to passengers affected by the flight disruptions in NAIA caused by a system failure of the traffic management system, which is under the supervision of CAAP.

Bautista said at around 9:49 a.m. Sunday, the Air Traffic Management Center (ATMC) which serves as the facility for controlling and overseeing all inbound and outbound flights and overflights within the Philippine airspace went down due to a power outage, resulting in loss of communication, radio, radar, and internet.

He said the system glitch caused disruption of flights in NAIA as well as in other airports in the country.

“The primary cause identified was a problem with the power supply and the degraded uninterrupted power supply which had no link to the commercial power and had to be connected to the latter manually. The secondary problem was the power surge due to the power outage which affected the equipment,” he added.

Senators, meanwhile, called for an investigation into the technical problems that triggered hundreds of cancellations and delays that affected almost 60,000 passengers.

Senators Grace Poe, JV Ejercito, and Jinggoy Estrada said an investigation should be done to avoid a recurrence of the chaos of the last few days.

“We will, therefore, conduct a hearing as part of the Senate’s oversight function, to determine who is liable, and what we need to do to avoid the malfunction from happening again,” said Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on public services.

Ejercito said a probe should be done to make sure that this kind of incident doesn’t happen again. He said “it’s either sabotage or plain incompetence. “

“We have yet to find out the facts. CAAP is the agency in charge, so they have a lot of explaining to do,” he said.

He said the incident could damage the country’s image and its tourism industry.

Senator Nancy Binay agreed, saying anyone who has plans of traveling to the Philippines this year may have second thoughts about visiting.

Binay, who chairs the Senate committee on tourism, said the Philippines will be hosting several international events in 2023, including the much-awaited 2023 FIBA World Cup.

“Airport service quality and passenger satisfaction have a great impact on Philippine tourism. What happened at NAIA makes it hard for us to promote traveling to the Philippines,” Binay said.

House ways and means committee chairperson and Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, meanwhile, said the CAAP and the DOTr should make sure that passengers with canceled flights would be fully reimbursed if they choose that option.

Under the DOTC-DTI Joint Administrative Order No. 1 s. 2012, “In case the air carrier cancels the flight because of force majeure, safety and/or security reasons, as certified by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, a passenger shall have the right to be reimbursed for the full value of the fare,” Salceda said in a statement Monday.

Salceda said that “because this is clearly the fault of the government and not of the airlines, many passengers are unable to avail of basic compensation and accommodation packages such as free hotel rooms.”

“The JAO apparently does not have a provision for when it’s clearly the fault of the administrative agencies,” Salceda added.

“So, the least the CAAP can do is certify this event as a safety reason for cancellation, so that the reimbursement mechanism can be set into motion.”

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