NAIA fiasco: Senate to summon officials

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
NAIA fiasco: Senate to summon officials
Photo taken last Saturday shows stranded passengers crowding the lobby of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, a day after a Xiamen Air plane from China skidded off the runway and caused flights to be canceled or diverted.

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate will summon airport and transportation officials as well as airline executives to explain the paralysis of operations at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport following last Thursday’s accident involving a Chinese airliner that skidded off the runway.

Sen. Grace Poe, who chairs the Senate committee on public services, said her panel will conduct an inquiry into the operational procedures of airport personnel in responding to such emergency situations.

Poe asked why it took about 36 hours to remove the Xiamen Air Boeing 737-800 from the runway.

She noted that the accident paralyzed airport operations, affecting tens of thousands of passengers of delayed and canceled flights.

“The public deserves an acceptable explanation. This is important, considering that NAIA remains the primary gateway for foreign tourists into the country. Note, also, that NAIA is operating at overcapacity. It was built to handle some 30 million passengers, but is currently accommodating around 42 million,” Poe said.

She said this was not the first time a passenger plane got stalled or skidded off the runway, and would not be the last.

Poe said the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) was not able to respond quickly enough that hundreds of flights were either cancelled or diverted, leaving tens of thousands of passengers stranded at NAIA and other airports in the country.

Among those to be invited to the probe are Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, MIAA general manager Ed Monreal, airline executives and some affected passengers.

“We will give time for airport authorities to have a complete report on the effects of the runway closure during and after the incident,” Poe said.

Other senators also want to find out why airline firms did not coordinate properly with the MIAA and their own passengers on the actions they took while the Chinese airplane remained stalled and blocking the runway.

They cited reports that flight information displays were also shut so airline staff had to walk around with pieces of paper with the flight details to call for boarding while passengers were made to wait without food or water.

The hearing will also tackle Senate Resolution 782 filed by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian on the status of Metro Manila airports and the government’s plans, if any, on modernizing them to meet growing demand.

New airport needed

Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said last Thursday’s accident signaled the need for another international gateway to decongest NAIA.

“The accident at NAIA is already a signal for a new airport to be built. The single international runway will not really work anymore. Government has to decide now where to build,” Ejercito said in his Twitter account.

He suggested that the quickest solution for Manila’s airport problems is to have a twin airport system between Clark and NAIA, just like Haneda and Narita airports in Tokyo, Japan.

Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento agreed on the need for another airport to decongest NAIA.

Sarmiento, chairman of the committee on transportation of the House of Representatives, said the accident at NAIA signaled the need to construct another airport near Metro Manila, preferably in Bulacan province.

Sarmiento stressed this is in line with the government’s proposals and plans to increase the capacity of the three NAIA airports in Pasay City.

“The most practical idea here is to move out and create another airport so that it would bring convenience and comfort, and in the process avoid traffic in Metro Manila,” Sarmiento said over dzBB.

He cited the case of advanced economies like Japan and South Korea whose airports are located at least an hour away from the country’s capital, which is one way to decongest traffic. This has also been so in Hong Kong and Malaysia, and many others.

Sarmiento said the use of the nearby Clark International Airport, which is 66 kilometers away from Metro Manila, is ideal since this is considered as a “complementary” airport for congested NAIA.

“The Clark airport is already there and it’s very vast. And we can develop that and eventually accommodate the increasing capacity of NAIA. What we only have to do is to provide a twin airport that can complement NAIA,” he said.

He also proposed that passengers be divided into two – those from north and south Luzon.

Passengers from Bulacan all the way up to northern Luzon can avail themselves of what he called the “north catchment” that will be serviced by the Clark International Airport, while those from the south will be catered by the “south catchment.”

South catchment will cover those passengers from Quezon City in Metro Manila, down to southern Tagalog and all the way to southern Luzon or the Bicol region, which can use the NAIA located in Pasay City.


Sen. Francis Pangilinan lamented no one appeared to be in charge at the time when the stalled jet was still on the runway blocking flights.

Ejercito, who was stranded at Davao City airport after the accident in NAIA, cited personnel of Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), including air traffic controllers, for their dedication.

But he criticized some employees at the NAIA’s Skylogistics Airport Services assigned to handle check-in counters and boarding gates for walking out and claiming their shifts had ended despite the chaotic situation.

He warned of the economic cost of the mishap to include overseas Filipino workers losing their jobs, and investors being turned off.

Ejercito said the “paralysis by analysis” of the previous administration that delayed the modernization of NAIA and the construction of a new international gateway.

The passenger plane, Xiamen Air flight MF8667, skidded off the runway late Thursday while trying to land during a heavy downpour.

Officials said NAIA Terminal 1 was the most affected by the accident.

The airport terminal was closed to all air traffic following the accident and reopened on Saturday after almost 36 hours.

Senior ramp controllers Algier Ramo and Manny Hortaleza said hours after the runway was cleared of obstruction and debris, passengers and even aircraft of foreign airlines scrambled at the parking area of NAIA Terminal 1 and 2.

Ramo and Hortaleza and other ramp controllers assigned at NAIA 1 said they had a hard time arranging or giving instructions to the foreign pilots on where to park or what bay they should proceed to.

Aircraft were on standby at the remote parking area while others were at the taxiway waiting for instruction from controllers.

Hortaleza said most of the ramp controllers assigned on that shift last Saturday rendered overtime to put order to the chaos.

MIAA general manager Ed Monreal said they are joining the CAAP in investigating the incident.

“We have to account all the charges involved. Discussion will come probably next week,” Monreal said.?Meanwhile, the spokespersons for Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific hailed the efforts of the aviation authorities to immediately reopen the affected runway.

“The reopening of the main runway paved the way for the recovery to hub of diverted flights and the departure flights out of Manila with adjusted timing,” PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna said.

She said PAL had a total of 68 canceled flights during the runway closure, affecting 18,810 passengers, while 21 flights were diverted affecting over 5,483 passengers.

Charo Logarta of Cebu Pacific said they are currently assisting over 20,000 passengers affected by the cancelation and diversion, not including the passengers of delayed flights.

“We are doing our best to accommodate passengers at the earliest time possible, we want to thank all passengers for their continued patience and understanding,” Villaluna added. – With Delon Porcalla, Rudy Santos

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