New Year snag: Airport chaos

Air traffic glitch cancels, delays 282 flights, affecting 56,000 passengers

Chaos greeted travelers going into Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) on New Year’s Day as technical problems with its air navigation facilities led to 268 flight cancellations on Sunday—a glitch affecting the entire Philippines and hassling about 56,000 passengers, the Department of Transportation said.

NAIA BEDLAM. A screen shows flight information at Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay on January 1, as a glitch in the airport’s air navigation system led to a six-hour shutdown of air traffic on New Year’s Day. Thousands of passengers crammed into the departure gates while their planes were forced to park or call off flights altogether, as airport workers handed out food and drinks to ease their wait (below photos). AFP

The six-hour shutdown of air traffic going in and out of NAIA, the Philippines’ premier airport, led to a total of 282 flights across the country getting canceled, delayed, or diverted to other regional airports.

The delays were traced to “technical issues” at the air navigation facilities of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), which issued an apology.

In a statement later Sunday, Transportation Secretary Jaime J. Bautista said the primary cause identified was a problem with the power supply and the degraded uninterrupted power supply (UPS), 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.

“The power coming from Meralco isn’t the problem, there’s really power. The problem is the equipment that we are using in CAAP,” he added.

CAAP Director General Manuel Tamayo said the agency already restored the operations of the Communications, Navigation, and Surveillance Systems for Air Traffic Management (CNS-ATM).

Tamayo also blamed the power outage on the outdated CNS-ATM, which was funded by the Japanese government.

“We expect to normalize the operations of the airports,” he added.

The DOTr said that as of 4 p.m., the air traffic management system had been partially restored, allowing limited flight operations.

It said that “the glitch has affected the entire Philippines” and inconvenienced about 56,000 passengers.

The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), which supervises NAIA and its three terminals, said Sunday that the Air Traffic Management Center’s (ATMC) normal operations resumed at 5:50 p.m.

Bautista added that the equipment restoration is still ongoing. Healso said that the government is planning to build a new CNS-ATM as a backup to ensure that a similar situation will not happen in the future.

“DOTr and CAAP continue to coordinate with the airlines as well as the other Authorities and operators such as Mactan Cebu InternationalAirport Authority (MCIAA), Clark International Airport, and Davao International Airport to address the flights disruptions,” said Bautista, a longtime airline executive before joining the government.

“The Department also liaised with the airline partners for the provision of food, refreshments, transportation, lodging, and accommodation for all the canceled flights which are to be provided by the airlines free of charge to all affected passengers,” he added.

Aside from this, DOTr directed different airline partners to provide food, refreshments, transportation, lodging, and accommodation for all affected passengers, free of charge, Bautista said.

CAAP and MIAA distributed Malasakit Kits and food packs to stranded passengers in the terminals, he added.

“DOTr also instructed the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) deployment of shuttle buses to take affected NAIA passengers to Clark International Airport,” Bautista said.

“While we acknowledge and apologize for any inconvenience brought by the incident, rest assured that DOTr, with CAAP, MIAA, and otherairport stakeholders, are working tirelessly to restore full operations at our ATMC, and safely bring home all affected passengers.

We graciously appeal for everyone’s patience and understanding,” he added.

The CAAP said the “technical issues” were first detected at 9:50 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2023, at the Philippine Air Traffic Management Center, and apologized to the affected passengers.

“The flight delays and diversions are only precautionary measures to ensure the safety of passengers, crew, and aircraft,” CAAP said.

The agency added that it has advised all airlines of the situation and that relevant authorities were addressing the issue.

“We guarantee the riding public of our continued commitment to theirwelfare and convenience and above all the safety of our flights,” CAAP’s Tamayo said.

The cancellations showed the need for multiple contingency plans and the immediate rollout of assistance to all stranded passengers for any disruptions, said Sen. Grace Poe.

“We should not be in a rush if passengers are already mad,” she said.

“What a way to start the year. It’s not yet a year since I talked about the condition of our air transportation, but we’re now adding another problem to the list instead of striking them off,” Poe added.

“It’s a new year, but the same problem. We were optimistic that the new year would spur change for the better, but it seems that our air transport’s new year’s resolution has been broken on the first day of the year.”

Philippine Airlines and AirAsia Philippines issued advisories on flight diversions, cancellations, and delays.

“AirAsia is closely working with airport authorities to ensure convenience among our guests in all of our airport operations pending complete resolution of the technical concerns,” the company said.

Cebu Pacific also said that all flights have been temporarily “put on hold” due to the technical issues at NAIA.

“Please expect flight disruptions as we manage the situation,” the airline said, adding that the Philippine Air Traffic Management Center was experiencing a power outage and the loss of communication that affected all operations.

The Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) said they coordinated closely with NAIA management.

“Upon initial analysis, there were no trouble or issues affecting Meralco distribution facilities, and no power outage or fluctuation was likewise monitored or reported as far as Meralco’s power lines and facilities are concerned,” Meralco said.

“Meralco is currently onsite and ready to provide assistance if needed by airport authorities,” it added.

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