Philippines NAIA: Power outage leaves thousands stranded, flights canceled on New Year’s

(CNN) – Chaos erupted on New Year’s Day in the Philippines after a severe power outage temporarily affected air traffic control at the country’s largest airport, disrupting hundreds of flights and stranding tens of thousands of travelers stuck in the middle of Southeast Asia.

Despite an electrical restoration, some travelers are still struggling to rebook and continue to their final destinations.

Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) is the main gateway for travelers to the Philippines, serving the capital Manila and the surrounding region.

The technical problems were first detected on Sunday morning, the airport’s operator, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), said in a statement.

A total of 282 flights were delayed, canceled or diverted to other regional airports, while around 56,000 passengers were affected as of 16:00 local time on New Year’s Day.

Behind the cameras

In a press conference held on Sunday evening, January 1, Philippine Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista apologized for the inconvenience caused to passengers and said the airport’s central air traffic control system had suffered a severe power cut. Although there was a backup power supply, it had not provided enough power, he added.

“This was an air traffic management system problem,” Bautista said. “If you compare (our airport) with Singapore’s, for example, there is a big difference – they are at least 10 years ahead of us,” he said.

Bautista added that his transportation department has also coordinated with the affected airlines to provide food, refreshments, transportation and accommodation “free of charge to all affected passengers.”

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Among the flights affected by the airspace disruption was a Manila-bound Qantas flight that departed Sydney shortly before 1pm local time on January 1. Three hours into its eight-hour journey, flight QF19 was forced to turn around in mid-air and return to Australia.

“All airlines were prevented from arriving in Manila on Sunday afternoon as local authorities closed local airspace,” Qantas said in a statement. “This meant our flight from Sydney had to turn around.”

Operations had partially resumed by 5:50 pm local time, CAAP said in an update, and the airport had once again begun accepting incoming flights. A Department of Transport statement shared on Facebook said airport operations had returned to normal while equipment restoration was still ongoing.

A possible investigation

However, flight delays continued for the second day in a row on Tuesday, even after power was fully restored, CNN Philippines affiliate reported. Officials advised travelers to “expect further delays” as airlines scheduled new flights to replace canceled ones.

“Passengers should expect flight delays because this is a consequence of the recovery operations we are conducting today,” Cielo Villaluna, a spokesperson for Philippine Airlines, the country’s flag carrier, told CNN.

He also said many planes were still stranded as a result of the system problem on New Year’s Day.

Frustrated and weary passengers lamented their loss over what to do as they camped outside airline ticket offices seeking clarification and early departure flights.

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The incident has sparked a strong public reaction online, with many, including politicians, questioning how and why the power outage had happened in the first place.

Philippine Senator Grace Poe announced an official investigation into the incident. “There needs to be transparency and accountability on the part of the CAAP,” Poe said.

“Therefore, we will hold a hearing as part of the Senate’s oversight function: to determine who is responsible and what we need to do to prevent the malpractice from happening again,” Poe added.

Passengers weigh

Global air travel was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, but passenger traffic has been slowly recovering, with industry experts predicting the sector will return to previous normal levels by 2025.

Photos and videos shared online showed massive crowds at NAIA. Snaking queues were seen at various check-in counters. Many passengers have also been seen dragging their luggage piled up through flight arrival screens waiting for updates.

Manny V. Pangilinan, a Filipino businessman, shared Twitter that it had been on its way back to Manila from Tokyo, but the plane had to return to Haneda Airport because “NAIA’s radar and navigation facilities were down.”

“Six hours of useless flying,” he said. “The inconvenience to travelers and the loss to tourism and business is horrendous.” Their plane finally landed in Manila at 11 p.m. local time, Pangilinan said.

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Student Xavier Fernandez was one of the thousands affected by New Year’s flight disruptions. He spent hours on the phone with United Airlines and other flight companies to rebook his flight to San Francisco at a later date. “It’s been an absolute nightmare,” he told CNN, adding that he had been at the airport for more than 10 hours.

Fernandez also said there had been other passengers who had boarded their plane Sunday morning before the blackouts were announced and eventually had to disembark their planes after waiting several hours on board.

The large-scale flight disruptions come amid a busy year-end travel period in the Philippines, which sees large numbers of foreign tourists and foreign nationals fly into the country from abroad to mark Christmas and the New Year, some of the most important holidays in the country. celebrations

Fernández had been in Manila to celebrate Christmas and New Year with his family.

“Literally the worst way to start the year,” he said of the episode.

The New Year airport crisis also forced many Filipinos working abroad from their flights bound for destinations such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

Nora Dela Cruz, a domestic worker, told CNN her job was “now in limbo” after she failed to return to Hong Kong on Sunday. She, along with other women working in the industry, were “discharged” by the delays, she said.


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