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CAAP blames airlines for airport congestion

MANILA, Philippines - Aviation and airport officials blamed domestic and foreign airlines yesterday for the ground and air traffic congestion at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

Marlene Singson, supervising air traffic controller of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, and CAAP deputy chief Rodante Joya said the airlines are mounting more flights than the number the airport and its personnel can accommodate and handle.

Both informed the House transportation committee that CAAP told airline companies that NAIA could only handle a maximum of 40 arriving and departing flights per hour.

However, a report from the Airport Coordination Australia (ACA), a foreign firm hired by several airlines to schedule flights in such a way that flights do not arrive or depart at the same time, showed that the number could go up to 48 per hour.

Singson said it could easily be seen from the report that the flights need to be separated or put on hold either on the ground or in the air, a situation that results in cascading delays that affect flights set to take off or land in other time slots.

“I don’t know why airlines insist on arriving or departing at the same time,” she added.

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CAAP chief William Hotchkiss said they have prescribed a minimum time separation between flights to avoid accidents.

“We want to ensure a safe, orderly and expeditious flow of traffic,” he said, affirming that based on safety standards, they can handle only a maximum 40 flights per hour.

Manila International Airport Authority general manager Jose Angel Honrado said he and the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) and CAAP officials met with airline executives in October to agree on a better flight schedule.

“They created two committees to come up with the schedule and submit it in our next meeting. We used to handle 600 flights a day in 2010. Now, we are handling about 820 flights a day,” he said.

Members of the transportation committee led by chairman Rep. Cesar Sarmiento of Catanduanes told aviation and airport officials that the panel has been hearing about the flight scheduling problem since the body started looking into air transportation issues three years ago.

“We want solutions. In December last year, we had a snafu. Thousands of passengers were stranded or otherwise inconvenienced. For that, Cebu Pacific was fined P52 million. We do not want that to happen next month, when people will travel to the provinces or abroad for their Christmas vacation,” Sarmiento said.

Reps. Joseller Guiao of Pampanga and Jonathan de la Cruz of party-list group Abakada lamented that the concerned agencies sounded helpless on the scheduling problem.

“You are the regulators. Surely, you can do something. You can convince or force airlines to follow a more sane arrangement,” they said.

Guiao said the government could even compel airline companies to use other airports like the Clark International Airport in Angeles City.

“We have an airport there that can handle four million passengers a year. As of now, we have only one million passengers,” he said, adding that he could not understand why airlines chose to cancel flights during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Manila when they could have used the airports in Clark or Cebu.

Although CAB’s Wyrlo Samudio admitted that the government could intervene, he told the committee that choosing a specific time slot for arrival or departure and which airport to use “are business decisions on the part of airlines.” He added that some Middle East-based carriers have discontinued using Clark as they were reportedly losing money.

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