CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Local technicians are not capable of fixing the Lumbia airport’s busted runway threshold identifier lights or RTILs here, prompting local airport authorities to send damaged parts to Manila for repair, according to an area official of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines.
Mohammad Naga Rascal, area manager of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), said that the RITLs consisted of “high voltage sub-assembly parts” that only specialized technicians should handle, which was why they had to send the damaged parts to Manila on Tuesday.
“We have requested our Manila office to fast-track the repair of the RTILs. As of today (Wednesday, April 3), we have not received any advisory on the status of the repair,” Rascal said.
With no RITLs to guide approaching aircraft from dusk to night time, the CAAP advised various airline companies using the Lumbia Airport to cancel their late afternoon and evening flights until further notice.
Rascal also apologized to stranded passengers as the situation was not intentional.
More late afternoon and evening flights in and out of Lumbia Airport were canceled as of Tuesday, causing the number of stranded passengers to go up.
The crisis started around 3 p.m. Monday when lightning hit the airport’s runway lights. RTILs are important for approaching aircraft during night time.
Since incoming flights at dusk were cancelled, there were also no outgoing flights hours later.
Hundreds of passengers have been stranded at the Lumbia Airport since Monday.
Among them was Racquel Radaza, a Manila-bound Cebu Pacific passenger on a connecting flight to Kuwait.
Radaza said she picked up the last flight out because the fare was cheap but that decision could now threaten her job as a domestic helper in Kuwait.
Michelle de Guzman, spokesperson for Cebu Pacific Airlines, confirmed that they were able to receive the advisory about the airport shutdown because of the busted runway lights.
But De Guzman said they lacked the time to advise passengers flying out or into Lumbia Airport on subsequent flights about trip cancellations.
“When we found out that the lights were inoperative, we did our best effort to contact our passengers…the advisory came in late,” she said.
As of Wednesday, the CAAP said flight schedules from 5 p.m. onwards were still cancelled.
De Guzman said that the airline has been trying to reach passengers about flight cancellations.
She said the company has decided to offer passengers two options: rebook or re-route their flights within 30 days without penalties; or a full travel refund.
But Radaza said she was unsure if any of Cebu Pacific’s schemes would work for her.
“My employer has already rebooked my flight once. I don’t know if she can still accommodate another rebooking. If this does not work out, I will be forced to work here in the province but (my income) will not be enough to feed my two children,” she said.
Aside from Radaza, four other domestic helpers also missed their connecting flights to Kuwait. The problem was that their Kuwait-bound flights could not be rebooked or refunded so they have to raise another $500 each for new tickets.
An enraged passenger identified as Tess Brioness of the Ateneo School of Government demanded on Wednesday to speak with airport officials when she later learned that she would not be able to fly out on a returning aircraft to Manila.
Brioness criticized airport and airline officials for failing to inform her about the cancellation of her flight.
“I was only told that my flight was cancelled when I was at the check-in counter. If this happened the previous day, why were we not advised earlier then? We were not even given any accommodation, not even food or water,” she said.
What enraged her further, she said, was when airport security personnel made the waiting passengers leave the pre-departure area and told them to just wait by the entrance or by the tents of sari-sari stores outside.
“The management should have allowed us to stay in the pre-departure areas for humanitarian reasons…a lot of the passengers here did not know their way around the city and they have no means to check in at hotels,” Brioness said.
She said to worsen the situation, nobody from among airport and airline officials wanted to take the responsibility of providing information to the passengers.
“In the end, the airline company blamed the passengers’ travel agencies for their inability to advise their clients…what a nice ending,” Brioness said.