Passengers crowd the departures lobby at Terminal 3 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Pasay City, January 1. – PHILIPPINE STAR/ MIGUEL DE GUZMAN
Airlines are expected to normalize operations at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) within the next three days, an airport official said, a day after a power outage shut down air traffic control systems and caused numerous flight cancellations and delays.
“It will be some time, our estimate is around 72 hours, before we can truly return to full regular operations, but we are asking all passengers to coordinate directly with the airlines and hopefully they can accommodate everyone at the earliest possible time as well.” Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Cesar M. Chiong said in an interview with One News Channel’s The Agenda on Monday.
He noted that the primary and emergency power supplies for the communications, navigation and surveillance/air traffic management (CNS/ATM) system had failed on Sunday, resulting in an outage that affected around 300 flights.
Mr Chiong said MIAA is trying to speed up processing of a backup air traffic system. He noted that NAIA is currently operating a maximum of 15 flights per hour as of Monday morning, down from the usual 20.
“Passengers could be accommodated between January 4th and 5th. Therefore, we are not only coordinating with the local airlines but also with the overseas airlines whether they can upgrade the type of aircraft they will operate here in NAIA so we can accommodate more passengers,” said Mr. Chiang.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said in a statement that it is currently investigating the root cause of the power supply issue that affected the CNS/ATM system.
CAAP’s Aerodrome and Air Navigation Safety Oversight Office (AANSOO), made up of engineers, air traffic controllers, pilots and an attorney, will be in charge of the investigation.
The Pta 10.8 billion ATM system went live in July 2019 and was funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
“CAAP recognizes that the system was already lagging when it was first used in 2019 and has made recommendations to the President to improve the country’s air traffic management system,” the agency said.
Transportation Secretary Jaime J. Bautista said the government is not ruling out the possibility of an external attack as one of the causes of the technical problem.
“We’re not ruling it out (outside attack). It is good that we consider all possible causes of the problem. We will conduct an investigation. There has been speculation that this could be the effect of some Chinese surgeries, which we don’t believe are really the cause. But we will fully investigate the incident,” Mr Bautista said in an interview on the ABS-CBN news channel.
“I think it (problem) can happen again. But we will make sure it doesn’t get as devastating as what happened on January 1st. We’ll make sure we take care of the system,” he added.
Mr Bautista said it could take time to address the issues surrounding the ATM system as it would require additional funding.
“Further redundancies will take time as we need full funding to do so. We need a feasibility study that we submit to the National Economic and Development Agency (NEDA) for approval and then seek funding,” he said.
The country’s CNS/ATM system is about 10 years behind those used by neighboring countries like Singapore, he added.
Meanwhile, Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) said there were no problems affecting its distribution facilities, nor were there any power outages or fluctuations in its power lines and facilities to affect the ATM system.
“We are closely coordinating with NAIA management on the situation. Meralco is currently on site and ready to provide assistance from airport authorities if needed,” the power distributor said.
Meanwhile, Go Negosyo founder Jose Ma. “Joey” A. Concepcion III proposed the revival of a consortium proposal to modernize the NAIA.
“Having seen the urgent need for modernization of key systems in our air transportation system and how badly any mishap can hit the whole country, I hope that this time we can revive this proposal and see it through,” he said in a statement.
In 2018, the so-called NAIA consortium proposed to rehabilitate and expand NAIA over a period of 15 years. It consisted of Aboitiz InfraCapital, Inc.; AC Infrastructure Holdings Corp.; Alliance Global Group, Inc.; Asia’s Emerging Dragon Corp.; Filinvest Development Corp.; JG Summit Holdings, Inc. and Metro Pacific Investments Corp. The group’s technical partner was Singapore’s Changi Airports International Private Ltd.
However, the proposal fell through as the consortium and the Duterte government failed to agree on the terms.
Rene S. Santiago, transportation expert and former president of the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines, said in a Viber message claiming the system is outdated, “a convenient scapegoat for failed maintenance.”
“This is not the first time this has happened, although previous incidents have been too brief to be as disruptive as January 1. The professionalization of CAAP and other transport agencies has been neglected. This is the main cause of problems in air, water, road and rail transport,” he added.
Meanwhile, Philippine Airlines (PAL) spokesman Cielo C. Villaluna told reporters via Viber message that the CNS/ATM issue on Jan. 1 affected 244 flights and 24,000 passengers.
In a separate notice at 7 a.m. Monday, the Transportation Department said Cebu Pacific canceled 29 international and domestic flights Monday.
AirAsia company spokesman Carlo Carongoy said in an interview with One News that 44 of its flights were canceled on Jan. 1, affecting 5,000 passengers.
“I see that flights for (Tuesday) and the following days will already be back to normal. We are only trying, if the CAAP allows us, to schedule some additional flights to reach the passengers whose flights were affected on Jan. 1,” Mr Carongoy said. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave