Philippine air traffic chaos on New Year's Day

New Year's day 2023 will be a day to remember for tens of thousands of passengers - for the wrong reasons.  Over 360 domestic and international flights to and from Manila were either cancelled, delayed, or diverted to nearby airports due to what the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) termed as "technical issues" with air navigation facilities. 

NAIA Terminal 3
Image source: Patrick Roque / Wikimedia

According to Transport Secretary Jaime Bautista, power outages with CAAP equipment caused a loss of communication, radar, radio, and internet at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.  He adds that, this affected the central air traffic control system which would take its toll on other airports in the country.  Power was knocked out at 9.49 am Philippine time.                                                                   

The CAAP and Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) have each issued an apology to the passengers, many of whom had to wait inside aircraft and terminals only to be told that their flights for the day would ultimately be cancelled.  A lot of them were using New Year's day to travel fly home from spending Christmas holidays in popular tourist destinations such as Boracay.

Bautista acknowledged that the existing facility should be upgraded "immediately" and said a backup system is also necessary.  

Partial operations resumed at 4 pm and "normal operations" resumed at 5.50 pm of January 1.  However as at January 2, early Monday morning, Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) was only handling 15 flights an hour instead of the normal 20.  The first flight to land after the technical issue was a flight from Brisbane.  The first flight to depart was a flight bound for Hong Kong.

According to Philippine Airlines, it is arranging recovery flights out of the US, Singapore, and Malaysia and diverting flights to other airports in the Philippines.  Likewise, the Department of Transportation, according to Bautista, has been coordinating with carriers to provide refreshments, food, accommodation to passengers of affected flights without extra charge.  

Businessman Manuel V Pangilinan, who was on a flight from Haneda to Manila only to be flown back to Tokyo remarked that in addition to 6 hours of "useless flying", the inconvenience to travelers and losses to tourism and business are "horrendous".  However, he offered to help government agencies mitigate what he thought would cause a similar problem in the future.

The air navigation failure around Manila has not only affected flights and to, from, and within the Philippines.  Carriers that fly over Philippine airspace to travel between Southeast Asia and Korea or Japan have also been affected.  Malaysia Airlines has said five of its flights (two of which were due to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Manila, and the remaining were flying to Kuala Lumpur from Narita, Kansai, and Incheon) were affected.  

Sources: Inquirer, ABS-CBN, CNA, Malaysia Airlines


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