Bare Truth by Rose de la Cruz
Bare Truth

A suspicious glitch in air traffic control system

Jan 4, 2023, 12:25 AM
Rose De La Cruz

Rose De La Cruz

Writer/Columnist

I can’t fathom how our air traffic control system, including the state- of- the- art radar system that former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III put in place, could just die for hours, or days maybe, considering how tight security is in the area. I had the fortune to visit it one time when the Department of Transportation under Art Tugade approved my interview and ocular in that site.

Exactly on January 1, New Year’s Day, the radar went off, which caused cancelation of all flights in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, stranding thousands of passengers arriving or departing from that main gateway.

The reason was “loss of communication” at the country’s busiest hub forcing hundreds of flight cancelation, delays and diversion to other airports.

Senator Grace Poe on Monday announced that the Senate would investigate the recent hiccup with the nation’s air traffic control system, which delayed hundreds of domestic and international flights on New Year’s Day.

“Give them time to restore normal flight operations. After which, we will conduct an inquiry and direct them to submit a full report of what caused the supposed glitch and power outage,” Poe said in a statement.

On Sunday, hundreds of flights were delayed, canceled, or diverted to other airports, affecting over 56,000 passengers scheduled to arrive at or depart from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and other airports across the country.

According to Poe, power distributor Meralco said there was a steady power supply from their end.

“The failure then points to CAAP (Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines) and their navigation equipment,” she said.

Poe said there should be transparency and accountability from CAAP as thousands of people depend on their capability.

“This is a national security concern. Thousands of lives depend on the efficiency and competence of CAAP. There needs to be transparency and accountability from CAAP, ” Poe added.
“We will, therefore, conduct a hearing as part of the Senate’s oversight function to determine who is liable and what we need to do to avoid the malfunction from happening again.”

Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) Director General Capt. Manuel Tamayo said that it was the power supply of the Air Traffic Management Center Communications, Navigation and Surveillance Systems for Air Traffic Management that had failed and caused damage to key components.

Poe also wants to find out if the glitch in NAIA is a national security issue—which to my mind is more like it.

Local and international carriers suspended flights following the power outage at the Philippine Air Traffic Management Center on the first day of the year

The problem, however, has been partly resolved, said the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA).

We are waiting for the official report from airport authorities but we need to determine whether or not this is a national security concern.

“In an airport setting, the impact of such a system failure can be catastrophic,” Poe said.
“Whatever caused the disruption in our radar services in NAIA, it demonstrates how wide-reaching the impact can be of the disruption in a single service.”

The senator also recalled a similar incident last September 2022 when several flights were cancelled and delayed following a power outage due to the issue on NAIA Terminal 3’s power substation.

“The [Department of Transportation] and MIAA assured us that actions will be undertaken to prevent recurrence of the incident,” she said.

“We want to know what these actions were and how come it happened again?”

Poe emphasized the need for multiple contingency plans and the immediate rollout of full assistance to all stranded passengers “to make being stranded during the holidays as less traumatic as possible.”

“Bagong taon pero lumang problema (and this says everything about this administration). 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,” she added.

If power supply—which Meralco said it never lacked in providing to the transport sector—is always to blame for such glitches whether by land, sea or air transport—we may as well kiss our tourism goals goodbye. How can you promote/sell a country that can’t even solve its power supply?

No amount of the president traveling at dumbfounding expense for the Filipino taxpayers to promote our country can bring in tourists and investors if our airports, ports and other transport system can’t even assure them the mobility they desire. Imagine how many tourists, balikbayans and investors wanting to come here were stranded on New Year’s Day because flights had to be cancelled or diverted elsewhere.


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