The Philippine Star

New Year Chaos greeted the start of 2023 in the country, as flights in and out of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport were canceled yesterday due to what authorities described as “technical issues” in air traffic control.

Amid the high air traffic volume as the holidays draw to a close, the Manila International Airport Authority announced that the technical issues were detected at 9:50 a.m. yesterday in the air navigation facilities of the Air Traffic Management Center, which is under the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines. The MIAA announced that the CAAP then set into motion emergency protocols as the ATMC glitches were addressed.

This meant the cancellation of 116 domestic and 35 international flights as of yesterday afternoon for flag carrier Philippine Airlines alone. Cebu Pacific informed stranded passengers that the disruptions were due to the ATMC “experiencing power outage and loss of communication, which are affecting all operations.”

In a statement, however, the Manila Electric Co. said it detected no problem in its distribution facilities yesterday.

Apparently, the “power outage” was no simple glitch that could be quickly fixed by switching to generators. The NAIA, the country’s busiest gateway, has experienced power outages in the past, and is expected to have installed standby generators throughout the airport facilities.

Air transport operates on precise schedules. Serious disruptions such as the one yesterday wreak havoc on flight interconnections and travel plans not just in the country but also across the globe. Many of the affected passengers were ending their holiday breaks, which must have been largely joyful after being held for the first time with little restrictions since the start of the pandemic lockdowns.

Yesterday’s problem at the NAIA made holiday vacations end on a sour note. Authorities must ensure that the problem is not repeated. Or – since there is no guarantee that machines will not suffer glitches – even if similar problems occur, the consequent disruption will be minimal. Several contingency plans must be in place and ready for implementation, including proper assistance to affected passengers.

The Philippines has enough problems with flights being delayed or canceled throughout the year due to the numerous weather disturbances that hit the country regularly. Technical problems should not aggravate such flight disruptions. It was an unhappy New Year for thousands of affected passengers yesterday. Every effort must be made to fully address those “technical issues” and prevent a repeat of what happened.

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