I had expected that today would be the usual boring New Year’s Day with everybody allowing themselves to be lazy after last night’s “Goodbye 2022, Welcome 2023” activities.
But not for long. At 12:52 p.m., I got a text message from my friend JB Baylon who was returning from Bangkok. He was asking what’s happening in the Philippines. He said his flight was about an hour away to Manila when passengers were told that “our plane had to return to Bangkok because Philippine airports were not contactable.” He had gathered that “all radars were down.”
I tried checking the website of the Office of the Press Secretary.
The latest story posted was about President Marcos’ New Year message, reiterating his campaign call “for unity, solidarity to overcome adversities.” No mention of any trouble in NAIA.
I checked the president’s social media accounts, which are dynamic with photos of BBM activities. The latest post was his Christmas message inviting everybody to join him in the Palace: “Tara sa Palasyo! Makisalo sa ating munting pagdiriwang ng Paskong Pinoy!”
I called friends who have contacts in aviation-related government agencies. One forwarded to me an Aviation Update Philippines (AUP) issued at 10:23 a.m. It said, “Based on live flights from Flightradar24.com, AUP is reporting multiple flight disruption across airports in the Philippines. Some flights are diverting to nearest airports or are returning to port of departure.”
“According to live ATC transmission from Manila Approach, radio and radar services are down affecting Manila Control which manages Philippine airspace,” the bulletin added.
The Philippines Defense Forces Forum showed an aerial map with a caption: “Bare skies over the PH as international and domestic flights cancel or divert due to technical issues at the Manila ACC/Radar. CAAP has confirmed but did not provide details.”
By noon, NAIA stopped operations. There were no flights operating to and from the country.
A friend, who has a good background in aviation and airport operations, said his sources told him, “There was a power outage.” In common man’s language, brownout.
Since there was no power, the radars became inoperable. No radars, no flights.
Filipinos are no strangers to brownouts. But NAIA is not a neighborhood sari-sari store. It may not be in the list of the top airports in the world but it is still an international airport. Doesn’t it have alternate power supply to ensure uninterrupted service?
NAIA has experienced power outage in the past causing disruption of operations. The last reported brownout, which caused the delay of more than 30 flights, was last September at NAIA3.
My friend JB was at the Bangkok airport at about 5 a.m for his 7:55 a.m. flight back to Manila. He was supposed to have arrived in Manila at 11:55 a.m. At posting time, he is back at the Bangkok airport.
He said: “We cannot leave airport. We have gone through immigration na. And our bags have been checked in. So we wait. For how long? Who knows.”
As of this writing (5 p.m.), still no word from Malacañang. The Manila International Airport Authority, which operates NAIA, apologized for delays that occurred as a result of “technical issues at the Air Navigation Facilities of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).”
The MIAA said the CAAP is now putting in place emergency protocols to address the situation to enable flight operations to resume as soon as possible.
The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files