Officials cite ‘outdated’ system for glitch that closed Philippine airspace
Flight operations in Manila are expected to fully recover in three days, but transport officials said billions of pesos' worth of upgrades are needed to prevent a repeat of the technical issues that effectively closed Philippine airspace to hundreds of flights on Sunday, affecting thousands of passengers.
At least 282 flights were canceled, diverted, or delayed on New Year's Day as the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) recorded a technical issue at the Philippine Air Traffic Management Center (ATMC) at 9:50 a.m. Some 56,000 passengers were affected at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
According to flight tracker Flightradar24.com, there were no flights in Philippine airspace at all for at least part of the day.
There are currently no airborne commercial flights in the Philippines (MANILA FIR). pic.twitter.com/xUhyPJarmE— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) January 1, 2023
In a press conference late Sunday, CAAP Director General Manuel Tamayo said that one of the uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) failed on Sunday morning, and troubleshooting activities had to be done.
Once the system was reconnected to the power supply, however, warnings were released at around lunch time due to over voltage as 380 volts were coming in instead of 220 volts. This then affected the very small aperture terminal (VSAT), which also had to be addressed.
"As what was mentioned, medyo luma na 'to [It is quite old]. Like anything mechanical, electrical, we cannot give you any assurances [that it will not happen again]," Tamayo said.
"What we have been doing in CAAP, we budgeted P124 million to do some upgrades on the system and that is due this year, 2023, for procurement... Hopefully this will help extend the life," he added.
Tamayo said the CAAP will also do more frequent monitoring of the system, which is already on a daily basis, as this is the first time of such incident after the system was procured in 2018.
'We need a backup system'
The Department of Transportation (DOTr) said the system was partially restored as of 4 p.m., and flights have already resumed both arriving and departing.
“We really need to have a backup system na sana located in a different location. Hindi ‘yung malapit dito sa area where we have the existing system,” Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista said in the same briefing.
“Of course we will need to have a budget for this so pag-aralan natin ‘to. We will do a feasibility study and present this to NEDA kasi napakaimportanteng system ito na dapat mayroon ang aviation sector ng Pilipinas,” he added.
(We really need to have a backup that is hopefully in a different location, not one nearby the area where we have the existing system. Of course we will need to have a budget for this so let us study. We will do a feasibility study and present this to NEDA because this is a very important system that the Philippine aviation sector needs.)
Bautista said the current system in use is already in its midlife as it was first introduced in 2010, but was officially implemented in 2018, when it cost P13 billion.
“Siguro [Maybe] we can still use it, but we need to upgrade this to a better system, so kung budget, siguro it should be more than P13 billion now considering that we had this five years ago,” he said.
The DOTr Secretary also said President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. is aware of the situation, and he has been briefed on the importance of the updates.
"We already presented this problem and sabi nga namin we really need to have this system. What happened today, mapipilitan tayong madaliin 'yung paggawa or pagkakaroon ng backup system," he said.
(We already presented this problem and we said that we really need to have this system. What happened today, we will be forced to fast-track the acquisition of the backup system.)
Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Cesar Chiong said discussions have already been made with carriers for additional flights to be made to accommodate passengers affected by the outage.
“We’re expecting mga 72 hours po siguro for them to fully recover the flights,” he said.
“We are also cognizant of the fact that most of the flights coming in or arriving in Metro Manila are going to be very full or pati ho ‘yung paalis, so nakikipag-coordinate na ho kami sa kanilang lahat,” he added.
(We’re expecting 72 hours for them to fully recover the flights. We are also cognizant of the fact that most of the flights coming in or arriving in Metro Manila are going to be very full or even those departing.)
Chiong said the runway of the NAIA— normally closed from 1:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. daily—will remain open 24/7 to accommodate additional flights.
"Ginagawa ng Manila International Airport tsaka ng CAAP, in coordination with the other agencies tsaka DOTr, provide 24/7 operations for these airlines for them to mount more flights and the sooner that they can mount more flights, the better," he said.
(The Manila International Airport and the CAAP, in coordination with the other agencies and the DOTr, is providing 24/7 operations for these airlines for them to mount more flights and the sooner that they can mount more flights, the better.)
In an earlier statement, the DOTr said that it was "on top" of the situation, and that it has "directed different airline partners to provide food, refreshments, transportation, lodging and accommodation for all affected passengers, free of charge."
It added that CAAP and MIAA have distributed Malasakit Kits and food packs to stranded passengers.
"DOTr also instructed the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) deployment of shuttle buses to take affected NAIA passengers to Clark International Airport," it said.
In Jamie Santos' report on 24 Oras, passengers lamented not just the cancelled flights but the costly repercussions for their travels.
“The airline said na puwede namang i-rebook for free, pero siyempre ‘yung hotel is another issue. I’ll just deal with the other problems later,” said Jenny Bayani, who was scheduled to fly to Caticlan.
Business magnate Manny V. Pangilinan said his flight from Tokyo to Manila had to return to Haneda Airport more than halfway through the trip.
“[Six] hours of useless flying but inconvenience to travelers and losses to tourism and business are horrendous. Only in the PH. Sigh,” he said in a tweet. — BM, GMA Integrated News