MIAA general manager Ed Monreal said the amount is just a part of what could be a hefty fine awaiting the Chinese airline.
Xiamen Airlines told to pay initial P15 million
Richmond Mercurio (The Philippine Star) - August 22, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Xiamen Air may have to pay the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) at least P15 million to cover the costs incurred in clearing its plane from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) runway last week.

MIAA general manager Ed Monreal said the P15 million is just the initial estimate that Xiamen will have to pay.

“I told them during our meeting that definitely this is not going to be easy. There will be costs involved and I will charge you all the costs we have incurred,” Monreal said in an interview on ANC Tuesday.

Monreal said the amount is just a part of what could be a hefty fine awaiting the Chinese airline.

“Right now there’s only two aspects that we have computed in the range of P15 million, but there’s still a lot,” he said.

Monreal said the P15 million included manpower as well as the rental costs of crane and other equipment that were used to remove the aircraft from the runway.

“We spend around P4 million for the crane which we rent used to lift the Boeing 737 aircraft in the muddy grassy portion of the runway,” he said.

The landing and take off fees are also considered, Monreal said, because more than 200 flights had been canceled and 17 were diverted to Clark International Airport and Cebu Airport during the incident.

Monreal said other airlines may file separate cases against Xiamen Air to recover their own losses because of the accident.

The passenger plane, Xiamen Air flight MF8667, skidded off the runway in the evening of Aug. 16 while trying to land during a heavy downpour.

Officials said the pilot decided to turn around for a second attempt, but the plane landed hard at runway 06-24 and skidded off the track and got stuck in mud.

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.

It took about 36 hours to remove the airplane from the runway as the accident paralyzed airport operations, affecting tens of thousands of passengers of delayed and cancelled flights.

“We still have a lot oft things to consider. I met with the chairmen of Xiamen Airways and they said they will definitely cooperate,” Monreal said.

Monreal said investigation of the incident is ongoing but he has no idea when it would be completed.

“What I heard is they will send the flight recorder to Singapore to interpret the data. That’s the only facility in the region to have that. It’s a special sort of equipment they are using. I don’t know how long it will take, depends on the slot available for that request,” Monreal said.

Lawmakers said Xiamen Air should back its apology with compensation to the Philippine government and airlines for the damages and costs they sustained with the accident.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said Xiamen Air is covered by insurance that can cover the costs of mishaps like last Thursday’s incident.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the government should also accept the apology and learn and act from the accident.

Sen. Grace Poe, whose committee on public services is set to launch an inquiry into the accident, sought an immediate determination of Xiamen Air’s liability to the government and other affected parties.

“I think that definitely, if they (Xiamen Air) are at fault, they need to be able to compensate for all the losses, specifically financial losses, about 200 flights. But we cannot also make arbitrary policies, remember that there are also other international airlines that are flying in the country,” Poe said.

Poe, however, warned that in seeking compensation, the government should also not make it appear that it was just laying blame on the Chinese airline but also “rectifying the situation.”

Poe raised the possibility of inviting the pilot of the passenger jet to the Senate hearing, if not representatives of Xiamen Air.

She also hit officials of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) for disparaging those criticizing them, saying it was obvious to all that the agency was slow in addressing the emergency.

Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said MIAA should conduct regular and frequent exercises and simulations of possible accidents so it could better respond to mishaps in the future.

Pimentel, on the other hand, advised overseas Filipino workers, who are at risk of losing their jobs abroad because of the incident, to secure certification and airport and transportation authorities “so that their story will be believed by their employers.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs said Philippine embassies and consulates general abroad were tasked to issue certifications, if needed, to explain the delay in the arrival of Filipino migrant workers.

Eye opener

Officials agreed last Thursday’s incident involving Xiamen Air at the NAIA was an “eye opener” that exposed the country’s urgent need to rehabilitate the airport and build other international gateways.

Special Assistant to the President Christopher Go said the incident showed the need for a contingency plan.

“No one wanted an accident to happen. This serves as an eye opener for us,” he said.

Go said government is already working on long-term solutions to decongest NAIA, particularly by improving the Clark International Airport in Pampanga as well as developing new ones in Bulacan and Sangley Point in Cavite.

He said the administration had earlier approved the expansion of the NAIA at a cost of P350 billion, divided into two phases.

The first phase includes the improvement and expansion of terminals in the current NAIA land area. The second phase involves the development of an additional runway, taxiways, passenger terminals and associated support infrastructure.

Go said the National Economic and Development Authority had also approved on April 25 a proposal for the construction of an airport in Bulacan. When completed, the proposed Bulacan airport will accommodate 100 million passengers a year.

“So with these, we will have more airports to ease travel,” Go said.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade also described the accident as an eye opener for the government to improve and build more airports.

Tugade also stressed the need to revisit the Air Passengers Bill of Rights, review the intervention protocols between airlines and airport authorities, recast equipment inventory, and enhance training modules at the airport in cases of emergencies.

Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said the DOTr should speed up the upgrades of the country’s smaller airports in the provinces to become capable of night operations.

He estimated there are about 20 airports in the country that are night-operations capable.

Ejercito noted the DOTr plans to make four domestic airports equipped for night operations every year.

However there is no such program in 2019 due to budget cuts, he said.

“I will fight for the restoration of the budget so that we can start the upgrades next year,” Ejercito said.

Also for the short term, the NAIA can purchase high-precision radars so that the arrivals and departures of passenger jets can be done in closer intervals, he said.

With closer intervals, there would be more slots in terminals and the NAIA runway for aircraft, Ejercito said.

Ejercito said in the medium term, the government can fast-track the ongoing upgrade of the Clark International Airport, which was budgeted P12 billion.

Sen. Richard Gordon proposed the immediate opening of the Subic Bay International Airport in Zambales that he said only needs new equipment and minor refurbishing of its terminal.

Gordon said he has appropriated P553 million from the 2017 General Appropriations Act for the restoration of facilities and procurement of digital radar systems, and instrument landing systems, among others.

“The solution is staring right at our faces. Subic used to host FedEx (Federal Express) that had 18 747 jets. Subic airport also handled the arrival of presidents during the 1996 APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Coooperation) Summit,” Gordon said.

The Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) said the immediate upgrading of NAIA appears to be the most cost-effective and fastest solution to the severe congestion currently plaguing the country’s main gateway. – With Rudy Santos, Paolo Romero, Pia Lee-Brago

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