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DOT apologizes for damaged runway

Passengers of flights diverted to Clark International Airport wait at the baggage carousel for their luggage on Monday after the Ninoy Aquino International Airport was closed for emergency repairs of its damaged main runway. At least 28 flights were diverted to the Pampanga airport. DING CERVANTES

MANILA, Philippines – Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade yesterday apologized to airline passengers for the closure of  the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) runway in Pasay City that caused delayed and cancelled flights, saying repairs were necessary to ensure their safety and security.

The government would need about P300 million to repair the runway of the NAIA to ensure it is safe for aircraft operations. 

“To all passengers, please accept my sincerest apologies. This is an event that no one wants to happen. The asphalt peeled off. We needed to give it our attention,” he said. 

“I don’t want to put at risk the safety of aircraft. I don’t want to put at risk the safety of passengers,” he added.

Roberto Lim, transportation undersecretary for aviation and airports, said in a telephone interview the runway was last repaired sometime in 2011 until 2012 and it is due for another overhaul sometime this year or next year.

“It will become a priority project of this administration,” he said.

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It would take time to start actual repair work, however, as the Department of Transportation would still have to hold a bidding for the contract.

Lim said the repair work could not be done during the travel peak season.

“We will have to start during off-peak season to minimize disruption,” he said.

He also said the repair work could only be conducted in the evening.

Operations of the NAIA have normalized after the emergency repairs were completed to fix the damaged runway 06-24.

Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Ed Monreal said airport operations have returned to normal while flights earlier diverted to Clark International Airport (CIA) would have to adjust schedules.

Monreal said the runway was closed for routine inspection early yesterday at around 1 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. for clearing operations of “foreign object debris.”

The maintenance crew fixed the cracked asphalt cover of the runway that measured about 5 to 6 meters long and 2 meters wide near the rapid taxiway 3.

Airport officials explained that rains over the past days weakened the asphalt cover and the landing and takeoff of heavy aircraft caused small cracks on the runway.

The holes became bigger until MIAA decided to issue notice to airmen (notam) closing the runway to conduct emergency repairs for the safety of airliners.

MIAA said that at least 40 international and domestic flights were canceled and 28 flights were diverted to Clark.

Routine asphalt overlaying is done every five years, according to Alvin Candelaria, airport operations department head.

Meanwhile, operations remained smooth at the Clark International Ariport (CIA) last Monday despite the diversion of international and domestic flights.

“Clark’s regular flights remained smooth and unaffected by the diverted flights,” said CIA president and chief executive officer Emigdio Tanjuatco III. 
The NAIA runway was reopened at about 10:45 p.m. Monday, but as of yesterday morning, eight NAIA-bound aircraft were still in Clark for refueling,” said CIA spokesman Rendy Isip.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) in Manila had issued a notam to the CAAP Clark tower to divert flights from NAIA to the CIA.

Isip said several air carriers waited for the repair of the NAIA runway while others had allowed their passengers to disembark at Clark and be transported by bus to Manila.
“All regular flights were not affected, no cancellation and delay,” Tanjuatco said.

“We understand the predicament of the passengers, we did our best to provide them all they needed.” 
The diverted flights were those of Airphil, Philippine Airlines, AirAsia Zest, Cebu Pacific, Air Juan, Asian Aerospace, Emirates, Saudia Airlines, Etihad, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and Oman Air.
The Clark airport has two parallel runways, each 3.2 kilometers long and could accommodate the world’s largest aircraft. 

Alternate airports

Sen. Richard Gordon called for the immediate development of the airports at Clark in Pampanga and Subic in Zambales as alternate international hubs.

Gordon decried what he called yet another “nightmarish situation” when the runway at NAIA was temporarily closed for several hours that resulted in the cancelation of several flights and long delays for others.

Some inbound flights were diverted to the CIA where passengers were made to stay for up to 10 hours inside the planes waiting for clearance to depart for Manila.

“Consider the heavy volume of air traffic that has grown through the years operating in and out of NAIA, but so little has been done to fully develop alternate airports like Subic and Clark. The government needs to act quickly to restore Subic airport into a fully functioning international grade airport and to upgrade Clark airport,” he added.

Gordon, who once served as chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, said that the diversion of flights from Manila would happen from time to time and the country has no choice but to make full use of its alternate airports. – With Rudy Santos, Marvin Sy, Ding Cervantes

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