Former and current officials of the Department of Transportation (DoTr) traded barbs Wednesday over the technical glitch in the air traffic navigation system that closed Philippine airspace and grounded more than 280 flights on Sunday.
Transport officials had been quick to blame what they called an outdated system, but a former undersecretary said the fault lay with current officials who were negligent in maintaining the equipment.
Ochie Tuazon, a former undersecretary for administration services, said the problem began when the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) failed to kick in following a power outage.
“To put it bluntly, it is more of negligence on the part of the people who are supposed to be maintaining the UPS. That’s a UPS. It’s supposed to kick in if power is lost. Why did it fail? Because they did not maintain it properly,” Tuazon said in a mix of English and Filipino.
The UPS failure effectively shut down the entire Communications, Navigation, and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) System of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).
CAAP, in a statement, said the loss of power in the CNS/ATM system was due to a problem in the system’s electrical network with its UPS.
The ATMS failed, triggering an almost 10-hour shutdown of Philippine airspace.
In a press conference on Jan. 1, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista said the system was already in its “mid-life” and would need an upgrade as soon as possible.
The CNS/ATM system was supposed to be installed in 2010 and turned over to the government by 2016. But the project completion was delayed for more than eight years, and it was only in 2018 that the Duterte administration inaugurated the system.
Full operation began in mid-2019.
CAAP Director General Manuel Tamayo, who worked as DOTr undersecretary for aviation during the Duterte administration, said the system was outdated.
But Tuazon twitted Tamayo for passing the buck when he was part of the previous Transportation department.
Tuazon said the system was working fine when they left office, and that it was up to the next administration to maintain it.
“I only have one recommendation for them. Do their jobs! Maintain the CNS/ATM system because it’s still OK,” he added.
Bautista on Wednesday vehemently denied all the allegations of Manila Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao in his column titled “Marcos officials blame Duterte administration for colossal airport boo-boo.”
“These are all not true. I did not say those words. I personally talked to him and explained to him… He told me to issue a press statement instead,” Bautista told Manila Standard in a phone interview.
Bautista said he did not say that the country’s CNS/ATM system was “outdated and obsolete.”
“What I said was that the technology is in its midlife stage,” Bautista said. “I informed Malacanang last Oct. 11 during a Cabinet meeting that one of the priority programs of the DOTr is putting up a backup CNS-ATM to be constructed far away from the existing system.”
He denied blaming his predecessor Arthur Tugade for installing an “outdated and flawed” CNS-ATM.
The DOTr chief also denied the allegation of Tiglao that the technicians in charge of the CNS/ATM plugged it into Meralco’s 380-volt power line.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) earlier said the incident that resulted in the loss of power in the system was due to a problem in the system’s electrical network, with UPS, which is to be used as backup power supply, also failing.
The main cause of the power supply problem was still being determined and is subject for investigation. The CAAP’s Aerodrome and Air Navigation Safety Oversight Office (AANSOO) has been tasked to investigate the incident.
Meanwhile, the Governance Commission for GOCCs, the central advisory, oversight, and monitoring body for government-owned and -controlled corporations, directed the CAAP to submit a report on the incident.
“CAAP is given three working days to submit its report to the GCG,” GCG chairperson Alex Quiroz said in a statement.
According to the GCG’s records, the CNS/ATM “was a strategic target in CAAP’s 2017 Performance Scorecard and its transition and implementation were the agency’s strategic target in its 2018 and 2019 scorecards.”
To further support the implementation of CAAP’s CNS/ATM, the GCG authorized the creation of 136 Communication, Navigation, and Surveillance System Officer I positions.
“As partners in national development and public service, the said report will inform the Governance Commission, as the central oversight agency for GOCCs, on how it may further support CAAP to avoid the recurrence of such incidents,” Quiroz said.
The Civil Aviation Authority said Tuesday that more than 20 provincial airports have already resumed normal operations, two days after a power failure and a technical glitch wrought havoc at NAIA.
The Senate is set to investigate the incident, with a first hearing set for Thursday, Jan. 12, Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on public services, said.
She said by then, the CAAP and DOTr will have already normalized airport operations and would have no excuse not to attend the hearing.
She said among other things, the hearings should show if the recent glitch that struck the country’s air traffic system is a national security issue.
Local and international carriers suspended flights following the power outage at the Philippine Air Traffic Management Center on the first day of the year.
“In an airport setting, the impact of such a system failure can be catastrophic,” Poe said.
Meanwhile, San Jose del Monte Rep. Florida Robes filed House Resolution 672 calling for a congressional inquiry into the airport shutdown affecting inbound and outbound passengers, and causing substantial loss to the tourism and aviation industry in the first day of 2023.
Robes, chairperson of the House committee on good government, said she wants to know from officials of the DOTr how the CNS/ATM, which is relatively new and which had fresh funding from the government in 2017, malfunctioned.
The shutdown has caused the cancellation or delay of at least 282 domestic and international flights.