How long pa ba, DOT?

- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - August 24, 2016 - 12:00am

Perish the thought that Transport Sec. Art Tugade is fast turning into a Jun Abaya. I still think we can expect faster action and results from Sec. Art. But unless he watches out, our worst nightmare may happen. It is so easy to be overwhelmed with work volume, complex issues and the bureaucracy.

Some of the things we need to happen from Sec. Art’s end will take time. But there are low hanging fruits and he has less than 50 more days to do something about those. There are things that do not involve building infrastructure but just issuing new orders.

Take this incident with Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol. The Cabinet member was on a flight that was diverted to Clark, supposedly because of unfavorable weather conditions at NAIA. Sec. Piñol had appointments to meet and they couldn’t give him an idea of how long they would be stranded.

Sec. Piñol asked the crew to let him off at Clark and he would find his own way to Manila. Apparently that is against the current rules so they would not let him.

Antsy about his appointments, Secretary Piñol called Transport Secretary Art Tugade and got approval to disembark. “Calls were made,” Piñol related “and finally the captain of the plane agreed to let me deplane…”

Of course other passengers thought the Secretary was power tripping. Probably, some of them also wanted to get off at Clark, but it was only Sec .Piñol and three other passengers with no checked luggage who were allowed to disembark.

A Facebook post started going viral about the incident. It unfairly pictured one of the Duterte administration’s most hard working Cabinet members in a bad light. Sec. Piñol eventually responded also on Facebook to explain his predicament and begged for understanding.

I can understand Sec Piñol and can even justify the special treatment he got. But this is an era of change… of no special treatments. Everybody on that flight should have been given the same option of disembarking. If that is against policy, the policy must be changed.

Indeed, I am surprised the policy had not been changed. Over lunch with Sec. Tugade about three weeks ago, we talked about those diverted flights, keeping passengers imprisoned in the aircraft for as long as six hours. Sec. Tugade exclaimed that such a situation is inhuman and he would change whatever policy there is that imposes that kind of punishment.

Well, apparently Sec. Tugade hasn’t found time to fix that policy. Or maybe, his usec for aviation is slow footed. I am impressed Sec. Tugade has all the right intentions, but he seems to be having problems with his bureaucracy in bringing intention into reality.

Speaking of flight diversions, I noticed there seems to be too many of those happening over the last few days blamed on the weather. Sure there had been some heavy rains now and then, but we didn’t have a serious typhoon… just the usual monsoon rains.

My question now is: Why the diversions due to weather problems? Isn’t NAIA, short of a signal 3 typhoon, more or less an all weather airport? It is our gateway airport, after all. I can understand closing the airport for a strong typhoon… like what they did for Narita and Haneda last Monday.

Next question: what happened to NAIA’s ILS or Instrument Landing System? I asked around and found out “the ILS for runway 24 or main runway is not working, for about four months already…”

Why is a fully functioning ILS important? A Google article explained: “An ILS enables airlines and airports to continue operations in low visibility conditions, such as heavy rain and very low cloud… It may also be used by some aircraft at night.”

“The ILS can bring you down to around 300 ft so you can have better chance to see the runway and for some aircraft they can use their auto land procedure so you don’t need to see the runway. You can’t do this without a full functioning ILS.”

Another Google article explains “ILS will reduce the decision altitude or height at which a pilot must make the decision to continue with the landing with the runway in sight or to go-around or divert because the runway is obscured by cloud. An ILS will reduce the decision height, or minima, from 500 feet to 280 feet, improving the chance of landing in poor weather…

“However, an ILS will not guarantee a landing in all weather – the decision to land in poor weather is ultimately up to the pilot-in-command.” As Piñol recounted it, the pilot of his Cebu Pacific flight suddenly pulled up and aborted the landing due to poor visibility, not strong winds. A functioning ILS might have helped.

A pilot told me that NAIA, “in poor visibility you will not see the runway from about three kilometers so you may need to bypass and go to Clark. The perennial holding over Manila in most times does not give the pilots much opportunity to try again another landing so they will go to Clark due to critical fuel.”

Another source explained why we have a problem with a non functional ILS: “In the Philippines, navigational equipment, communication equipment, radars, ILS, are mostly maintained by CAAP which is, unfortunately, not well funded to address emergency procurement.

“If I am not mistaken, the defect in the ILS for RW 24 had been there since three to four months ago and has been awaiting parts to complete repairs.

“I have been advocating removing the airports from CAAP and the entity running the airport should own and maintain all airport equipment under their revenue stream. CAAP should be left to just being a regulatory agency and there should be another agency just paying attention to airport operations.”

My thoughts exactly! Sec. Tugade should carry out the approved privatization of NAIA’s operations and management which Jun Abaya’s DOTC failed to implement. If Cebu-Mactan under Megawide is any indication, a private manager will ensure adequate facilities will be in place.

Another source informed me that ILS 24 (the one that is not functioning) is owned by CAAP, while ILS 06 used in the shorter runway is owned and maintained by the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA). Ideally, MIAA should also “own” the tower and primary approach radar and employ the licensed ATC personnel to clear up the line of responsibility.

The same source said CAAP should also turn over the tower and approach radar to the private operator of Mactan airport. Mactan has dual working ILS system, but they have not been commissioned for almost two years now because CAAP claims they have no flight check aircraft available. Unbelievable! Two years!

Indeed, even the management of the air traffic control system should be contracted out to a private company like the one that does that for Canadian airports. As I explained in previous columns, we are losing the best of our air traffic controllers to foreign entities who can pay them salaries a lot higher than government pay structure prescribes.

One of my sources observed the airport issues are simple but are never brought to light and no one is ever allowed to “peel the onion” and come up with real solutions. That’s Sec. Tugade’s challenge.

My other source said he is glad I am doing what I am doing because these are safety issues. There are millions of people using our airports every year and the odds are high of an accident happening due to government neglect of aviation infrastructure.

It would help if Sec. Tugade could give us an idea of the problems and a timeline of when relief will start to happen. And yes, one more good reason why the ILS in our airports should be working: airlines are paying for their use with their landing fees, but are being shortchanged because of CAAP’s failure to provide the service.

We have awful terminals, dirty toilets and leaking roofs which are just annoying, but not potentially fatal. Not having the right equipment that negatively impacts on passenger safety and convenience is an unpardonable failure of mission.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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