But an apology by the airlines is not enough, Malacañang said, as it vowed to investigate whether the pilot of the plane that overshot the runway at NAIA last week has liabilities.
AFP/Ted Aljibe/File
Xiamen Air apologizes; not enough, says Palace
Richmond Mercurio (The Philippine Star) - August 21, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — China’s Xiamen Air yesterday issued an apology to all passengers inconvenienced by its aircraft that skidded upon landing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) last Thursday night, and committed to “do everything in its power” to assist those affected.

But an apology by the airlines is not enough, Malacañang said, as it vowed to investigate whether the pilot of the plane that overshot the runway at NAIA last week has liabilities.

“It’s not just an apology that we will ask for. We’re now conducting an investigation if there’s any liability on the part of the Xiamen pilot.That’s why he has been asked not to leave the country. That’s part of an ongoing investigation,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said in a press briefing.

Roque said investigators would look into all sorts of possible liabilities including those that could result in the payment of damages.

“If there are delays, perhaps the airlines and the airport authorities should already decide to cancel flights so that there would be no crowding in the airport... But of course we welcome any form of investigation. It does not happen frequently in NAIA, thank goodness. So we could always learn from this experience,” Roque said.

As of 4:15 a.m. Sunday, Xiamen Air said seven of its planes that flew to Manila have returned, bringing a total of 1,113 passengers back to China.

“(Xiamen) will continually be sending four planes from Fujian to Manila to bring back more passengers,” the airlines added.

For his part, Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Ed Monreal said he met with an 11-man delegation from Xiamen yesterday morning for an “exchange of issues and concerns.”

“They have extended their sincerest apologies,” Monreal said. “I suggested to them that they should come up with a statement to (Filipinos) who have been affected, as a matter of sharing their sentiments.”

Aside from the statement of apology, Monreal said he also urged Xiamen Air to provide small items like food to passengers still stranded in the airport.

“I suggested, which they agreed and confirmed, that in order for the passengers or people to accept and for them to show their sincerity, I asked them for tokens, small items that these people would appreciate like food. They said they will comply,” Monreal said.

Monreal added that a hefty fine awaits Xiamen, including damages. He said, however, that the list of the charges is quite long and is yet to be calculated.

The official said he had already informed Xiamen airline officials about the fines during their meeting yesterday morning.

Monreal said MIAA has replaced the damaged lights at the runway’s edge as these are indispensable during takeoff and landing of airplanes.

Reports also showed that pilots and crew were found negative for drugs and alcohol, after their testing as required by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said it is taking the issue seriously, recognizing that the accident has caused not only Xiamen Air passengers financial losses but also discomfort and inconvenience to NAIA passengers and airlines whose flights have been cancelled, diverted and delayed.

The CAAP said it was observing ICAO standards, processes and policies to address the issue.

Effect on OFWs

Senators have urged concerned agencies to intercede for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) at risk of losing their jobs and ensure that stranded passengers are compensated for their troubles.

Senators Francis Escudero and Cynthia Villar in separate interviews said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) must provide assistance to OFWs affected by the mishap.

“I call on the DFA and OWWA to assist OFWs affected by these flight delays. Assistance with airline companies in rebooking and with their employers to help explain the delay and for it not to be taken against them,” Escudero said.

According to Escudero, it is within the rights of the passengers to be compensated for the trouble that the mishap has caused, particularly to the OFWs who now fear losing their jobs for not being able to return to their countries of employment on time.

Villar said the DFA should intercede for the OFWs, who risk having their employment contracts voided for not being able to report for work on time.

“I’m sure the employers will understand,” Villar told reporters.

Escudero and Sen. Grace Poe, who will lead the Senate inquiry into the NAIA paralysis next week, also said stranded passengers must be reasonably compensated.

Escudero said under Section 11.2 of the Joint DOTC-DTI Administrative Order No. 1 series of of 2012, also known as the Air Passenger Bill of Rights, “when a flight is cancelled because of force majeure, safety/security reasons, a passenger shall have the right to be reimbursed for the full value of the fare.”

“Government must also find a way to indemnify passengers for damages caused by these inordinate delays especially in cases of non-refundable tickets, missed connection flights and additional billeting expenses,” he said.

Poe noted that airport authorities and airlines have failed to properly coordinate with passengers on the status of their flights and neglected to provide them with reasonable comforts while they remained stranded in various affected airports.

OWWA chief Hans Cacdac said they would endorse the stranded workers to the labor and foreign affairs departments so that they could explain the delay in their arrival.

He added that recruitment agencies also extended assistance to the stranded workers.

The Department of Labor and Employment said stranded OFWs could also seek help at the department’s assistance center in NAIA.

 An official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday agreed with OWWA as he also urged the DFA and its embassies to help explain to the labor ministers of other countries the predicament of the OFWs stranded for days at NAIA that caused their delayed return to work.

In an interview over the Church-run Radio Veritas, CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People chairman Bataan Bishop Ruperto Santos appealed to concerned government agencies to help the OFWs who were affected by the mess at NAIA.

The CBCP official also appealed to the airlines to prioritize OFW passengers and allow them to be among the first to board their airplanes and bring them to their countries of destination.

National embarrassment

“There should be resignations here out of delicadeza (sense of propriety). Heads should roll here. We cannot be just an international embarrassment. Those running the airport should be held accountable administratively, civilly, if not criminally,” Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo proposed yesterday.

“An in-depth and comprehensive investigation should be done to avoid another similar incident. The lack of foresight, absence of contingency and the unavailability of a crane and no emergency plan should be addressed now,” he told reporters in a news briefing.

House Deputy Speaker Prospero Pichay and Reps. Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar and Jericho Nograles of party-list Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta made similar pronouncements, calling on the NAIA management to dig deeper into the incident.

The House committee on transportation headed by Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento has scheduled an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the issue on Sept. 5.

Pichay echoed the growing sentiments to develop even more the Clark International Airport in Pampanga and create new airports to decongest NAIA, just like the proposal to put up an airport in nearby Bulacan province.

Nograles called on the leadership of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) under Secretary Arthur Tugade to “prioritize the acquisition of much needed equipment so as not to stall our economy.”

Not giving up on NAIA

Now is not the time to give up on NAIA, the country’s main international gateway, despite the incident Thursday night, an airport industry source told The STAR.

The source said that while building new airports to complement NAIA in Manila and Clark International Airport in Pampanga would be a welcome development, it would take a long time to do so.

“We will need a new airport but that will take 10 to 15 years to fully operationalize. In the meantime, NAIA urgently needs an upgrade in everything –facilities, processes, equipment, procedures and people,” the source said.

“The worst idea is to give up on improving NAIA now and only hope that whatever is planned will materialize,” the source added.

Meanwhile, the consortium of seven conglomerates has recently secured from the government its much sought-after original proponent status (OPS) for its plan to rehabilitate NAIA.

The grant of OPS to the NAIA Consortium, which is composed of some of the country’s biggest conglomerates, namely Aboitiz InfraCapital Inc., AC Infrastructure Holdings Corp., Alliance Global Group Inc., Asia’s Emerging Dragon Corp., Filinvest Development Corp., JG Summit Holdings Inc. and Metro Pacific Investments Corp., would give it the right to match offers from other parties when a Swiss challenge is conducted for the project.

The group earlier said it is ready to start construction immediately upon securing the notice to proceed and deliver the first phase of expanding NAIA’s capacity by 2020. – With Rudy Santos, Alexis Romero, Paolo Romero, Mayen Jaymalin, Delon Porcalla, Evelyn Macairan

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