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Officials say NAIA flight disruptions due to outdated system, over P13 billion needed for upgrade

By NICK GARCIA Published Jan 02, 2023 11:29 am

The air traffic system of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) is outdated and would require over P13 billion for upgrade, transport officials said, on the heels of the New Year's Day flight disruptions that affected tens of thousands of passengers.

In a press briefing late Jan. 1, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) Director General Manuel Tamayo said the country's Communications, Navigation, and Surveillance Systems for Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) was conceptualized in the '90s, launched in 2010, and completed in 2018.

Though the system has a backup, Tamayo noted, it's an electrical system "like anything," which is prone to failure.

Department of Transportation (DOTr) Sec. Jaime Bautista described our CNS/ATM as already in its "midlife," and that the Philippines is at least 10 years behind countries like Singapore.

“This is not really an airport issue. This is an air traffic management system issue," he said. "Siguro we can still use it, but we need to upgrade this to a better system," adding that a future backup system is needed in a different location.

Bautista said the country's CNS/ATM cost P13 billion and was completed with the help of the Japan International Cooperation Agency. But five years later, he believes it should be much more expensive already.

“We will need a huge amount of money for this," he said, adding that they'll do a feasibility study that will be presented to the National Economic Development Authority.

On Jan. 1, 9:49 a.m., a power outage brought the country's CMS/ATM down, leading to a loss of communication, radio, radar, and internet.

“The primary cause identified was a problem with the power supply and the degraded uninterrupted power supply, which had no link to the commercial power, and had to be connected to the other manually," Bautista said in an earlier statement. "The secondary problem was the power surge due to the power outage, which affected the equipment."

In the press briefing, Tamayo explained that the country has two power sources: a commercial one provided by Meralco, and a backup through a generator.

Both sources supposedly have uninterrupted power supplies or UPS, Tamayo said. But when one of the CMS/ATM's cooling blowers failed, the commercial power supply's UPS failed. Using the backup generator also didn't help.

They tried installing an automatic voltage regulator, but the system that runs on 240 volts received 380 volts instead. This destroyed the very small aperture terminals or VSAT, which are used to transmit or receive plane data, voice, and video signals via satellite.

Meralco, however, said that upon initial analysis, there were no trouble or issues affecting its distribution facilities that could've impacted NAIA. In any case, it said it was closely coordinating with airport officials.

Bautista said NAIA has resumed normal operations on Jan. 1 at 5:50 p.m., while equipment restoration was ongoing. Partial operations with limited capacity began at 4:00 p.m.

In its 7:30 p.m. flight advisory on Jan. 1, the Manila International Airport Authority said 345 flights were canceled, 10 diverted, and 6 delayed, representing over 65,000 affected passengers.