FROM most stressful to a quiet airport.
That is one of the aims of Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Cesar Chiong for the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia). He told a select group of journalists he wants to “get rid of the periodic announcements of flights,” which adds to the din at passenger terminals. He said the government firm is now in the process of adding more electronic billboards that show the status of flights, to be placed strategically in all the terminals.
The Naia has consistently placed on lists of the world’s most stressful airports. The stress at Naia certainly rose during New Year’s Day with the outage experienced by the government’s air traffic control system operated by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).
President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. inspected the Naia on Friday with Transportation Secretary Jaime J. Bautista and Chiong to find out more about what happened during the system outage. Marcos Jr. apologized for the shutdown, which affected 65,000 passengers on 282 international and domestic flights, and ordered the Department of Transportation to fast-track the upgrade of government’s Communications, Navigation, and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) system.
Meanwhile, Chiong said he is aiming for a seamless travel experience for departing or arriving passengers. Prior to the Christmas holidays, MIAA already ordered the removal of the X-ray machines at the entrances of passenger terminals, as well as the transfer of some domestic flights to terminal 3.
He said the next step is to make passenger terminal 2 serve only domestic flights, while international flights will be at terminals 1 and 3. “That was the original idea for Naia-2 anyway, to make it a domestic terminal, while our international flights are at Naia-1 and Naia-3,” said Chiong. He said pioneering flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) has already agreed to transfer all its international flights to Naia-1. “Hopefully, by the end of March or April 2023, Naia-2 will be purely domestic flights.”
Another project, said Chiong, is to ensure the connectivity of all the passenger terminals, with the availability of roving buses to aid in the transfer passengers. “The inter-terminal loop is already ongoing. We just need to enhance it by putting more units to achieve regular intervals,” he said.
No sabotage—NSA’s Carlos
As this developed, National Security Adviser (NSA) Clarita Carlos dismissed rumors of possible sabotage, which caused the “mechanical failure” of the government’s air traffic management system on January 1. Speaking on Teleradyo, Carlos said, “I am more likely to rule that out because the employees [at the air traffic control center] go through security checks, and I am the one who gives the security clearance. And most of these people, they have been working there for 40 years.” The air traffic control center is manned 24/7 by personnel, she said. Carlos added she was consulting for CAAP during the term of Director-General William Hotchkiss III, thus she is well informed of its operations.
As NSA adviser, she was also briefed along with other high-ranking government and state intelligence officials on January 3 on the New Year’s Day outage. She suggested that such communications and electrical equipment be declared as vital to national security to facilitate any purchase to upgrade the equipment, and prevent a repeat of the incident.
Financed by a loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, procurement for the P10.8-billion CNS/ATM started in 2008, under the Arroyo administration. Questions were raised by the Aquino administration in 2010, on the credibility of Thales Corp. of France, the joint venture partner of Sumitomo Corp. of Japan, the project supplier. This was followed by an observation issued by the Commission on Audit, which halted the project’s implementation until 2013.
The system was eventually inaugurated and operated in 2018 by the Duterte administration. Due to the limitations on government’s procurement regulations, the specifications of the CNS/ATM equipment could not be updated from the 2008 specifications. As such, the warranty on the systems’ parts and equipment expired in 2020.