Philippines NAIA: Power outage leaves thousands stranded, flights canceled in New Year

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(CNN) – Chaos erupted on New Year’s Day in the Philippines after a severe power outage temporarily disrupted air traffic control at the country’s biggest airport, disrupting nearly 300 flights and leaving tens of thousands of travelers stranded in central Southeast Asia.

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

Technical issues were first detected on Sunday morning, the airport’s operator, 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 4 pm local time on New Year’s Day, it added. It was unclear how many overflights were affected, Reuters reported.

At a press conference held on the evening of Sunday, January 1, Philippine Transport Secretary Jaime Bautista apologized for the inconvenience caused to passengers and said that the airport’s central air traffic control system had suffered a severe drop in energy. Although there was a backup power supply, it didn’t provide enough power, he added.

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

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

Among the flights affected by the airspace disruption was a Qantas plane bound for Manila that departed Sydney just before 1pm local time on January 1. return to Australia.

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

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

But more flight cancellations continued on Monday, Jan. 2, affiliate CNN Philippines reported.

Frustrated and weary passengers lamented the loss of things to do as they camped outside airline ticket offices for clarification and early flights.

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

“What a way to welcome the new year into our country’s airports,” Philippine Senator Grace Poe said in an official tweet. Monday. “We will conduct an investigation to find out who is responsible and how we can prevent this from happening again.”

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

Photos and videos shared online showed large crowds at the NAIA. Winding queues were seen at several check-in counters. Many passengers carrying their luggage were also seen crowding the flight arrival screens, waiting for updates.

Manny V. Pangilinan, a Filipino businessman, shared in twitter that he was returning from Tokyo to Manila, but the plane had to return to Haneda Airport due to “the NAIA’s radar and navigation facilities being down”.

“Six hours of useless flying,” he said. “The inconvenience to travelers and the losses to tourism and business are dire.” His plane finally landed in Manila at 11 pm local time, Pangilinan said.

Student Xavier Fernandez was one of thousands affected by New Year’s flight disruptions. He spent hours on the phone with United Airlines and other airlines to reschedule 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 over 10 hours.

Fernandez also said that other passengers boarded their aircraft on Sunday morning, before the power outage was announced, and finally had to disembark after waiting several hours on board.

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

Fernandez was in Manila to celebrate Christmas and New Years with his family.

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

The New Year’s airport crunch also pulled many Filipinos working abroad off their flights to destinations such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

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



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