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NAIA-3 blackout strands thousands: 82 flights cancelled

Passengers wait outside the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 during a blackout on Saturday night. Electricity was restored before dawn yesterday. BERNARDO BATUIGAS

MANILA, Philippines – Thousands of passengers were stranded at Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) after a power outage hit the facility at 8:45 p.m. on Saturday and lasted more than five hours.

Power was restored at about 2 a.m. yesterday, but by then, at least 82 domestic flights had been cancelled and four international flights delayed.

Cebu Pacific Air, which uses the terminal heavily, said in a statement that 78 one-way flights were cancelled, affecting at least 13,950 passengers.

NAIA-3 officials said a sub-station of power provider Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) tripped and caused the blackout.

However, Meralco spokesman Joe Zaldarriaga denied the allegation.

Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said NAIA-3 has about 10 generator sets, but these failed to transmit enough power to keep the terminal operations going.

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“The genset kicked in (when the blackout occurred), but it failed to transmit power…there is drainage in the battery-powered switch gear,” Abaya told GMA News.

Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo expressed disbelief, saying, “I am appalled by the fact that NAIA 3 had no contingent or back-up plan for such an event.”

He said the incident was “shameful, to say the least.”

“It showed the lack of competence and foresight of those running the airport and the country’s transportation network, including the breakdown-prone Metro Rail Transit 3,” Romulo added.

Valenzuela Rep. Rex Gatchalian called for the ouster of Abaya and NAIA general manager Jose Angel Honrado.

“This is no longer a laughing matter. A five-hour blackout resulting in cancelled and delayed flights is proof that the transportation secretary and the NAIA general manager have been sleeping on their jobs. They should be sacked immediately,” the lawmaker stressed.

Gatchalian, who is the spokesman of presidential candidate Sen. Grace Poe, said the public deserves better services from the government. He lamented that the lack of a back-up power source reflects the kind of leaders that President Aquino has installed at the NAIA.

Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) senior assistant general manager Vicente Guerzon said power was partially restored at 12:30 a.m. yesterday and fully normalized at around 2 a.m.

Free rebooking

The country’s national carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL), which operates PAL Express, is waiving the rebooking fees and charges for all the affected passengers within 30 days. They are also giving passengers the option to get a refund.

PAL had four cancelled flights and 62 delayed flights. Many passengers missed their connecting flights after opting not to push through with their schedules following the long queues outside the dark airport terminal.

Cebu Pacific Air, which canceled at least 78 domestic flights, also gave its passengers the refund or rebook options.

“We sincerely hope for our guests’ understanding, as this situation is due to factors beyond the airline’s control,” an airline statement read.

International carriers Cathay Pacific, Emirates, KLM and Singapore Airlines reported at least one delayed flight each.

Exhausted passengers lay sprawled on the floor as check-in counters and luggage carousels shut down. Long queues formed outside the terminal as entrances were closed for security reasons until power was restored.

Terminal 3 of the NAIA, named after the assassinated father of incumbent President Aquino, handles an average of 350 domestic and international flights daily, according to data from the transportation department.

It is one of four terminals in a complex that was once dubbed by the travel website Guide to Sleeping in Airports as the world’s worst due to leaking toilets and creaking facilities.

Gatchalian said the NAIA is an embarrassment given its history of flight delays due to runway congestion, tanim-bala (bullet planting in passengers’ luggage) and ill-maintained infrastructure.

The airport authority, Guerzon stressed, apologizes for the inconvenience and said that “measures are now being worked out to make sure that a power outage does not occur again in the future.”

He added that NAIA officials and Meralco would analyze and assess the incident today.

NAIA 3 manager Octavio Lina said they had all generators operating during the outage, but that this was limited only to airport lights and air-conditioning systems.

During the incident, all NAIA 3 systems were down, especially at the departure area, he added. Operations at the arrival area continued, although with “limited resources.” – With Jess Diaz, Tina Mendez, Non Alquitran, Louella Desiderio

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