NAIA officials tell Senate probers they didn’t assist stranded passengers
Despite having P15 billion at its disposal, the Manila airport authority admitted Wednesday that it did not provide food, water or accommodation to passengers who were stranded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) after a Xiamen Air Boeing had skidded off the runway.
General Manager Eddie Monreal of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) made the admission upon questioning by Senator Ralph Recto at the Senate hearing on the accident.
The heavily damaged Xiamen Air plane led to the closure of the runway starting late
Aug. 16, bringing chaos to airport operations for several days and misery to a quarter million passengers whose flights were canceled, diverted or delayed for hours.
Thousands of passengers, including overseas Filipino workers, were stranded at Naia for days and were left to their own devices.
Senators called for better treatment of stranded and affected passengers, such as providing them food and accommodation even if the reason for flight delays was force majeure.
Responding to Recto’s query, Monreal estimated that around 250,000 passengers had been affected by the mishap.
Naia serves some 115,000 passengers a day. Monreal noted that a smaller runway continued operating.
The senators also questioned airport authorities about the entry of 61 uncoordinated flights at Naia that further exacerbated the disruption created by the runway closure.
“Many of us saw the big mistakes of the management of the airport and of the [Department of Transportation],” Senator Grace Poe, chair of the public services committee that led the hearing, told reporters.
At the hearing, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said that he came to the Naia only a day after the Xiamen Air plane had skidded off the runway.
But Tugade said he did not visit the accident site.
Senator Nancy Binay said Tugade should have been at the scene.
“You were never seen during the critical moments of the crisis. Isn’t it that being on top means being there?” Binay said of Tugade.
Tugade said he had been “on top of the situation,” and was in constant coordination with airport authorities.
“I didn’t go to the airport because I didn’t want to slow them down. If I go there, the people might just be distracted,” he said.
According to him, he did not want to go to the site of the accident because he might just give out orders that would contradict directives given by the crisis committee.
Tugade said airport officials called him past 1 a.m., shortly after the runway accident on Aug. 16 and had been in constant communication with them over the phone.
He said he was in touch with Monreal.
Monreal said he and Director General Jim Sydiongco of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines were at the scene as Tugade’s lieutenants.
“Me and the DG, the two of us had 80 years of experience combined. [Tugade] was giving me instructions,” he said.
Binay, though, was unconvinced. “How can you say you were on top of things when 61 flights were able to get past you?”
Monreal said these were flights that failed to coordinate with airport authorities 24 hours before their arrival, as protocol dictates.
The airlines may have been eager to send new flights to help the affected passengers, he said.
But since the airlines did not follow protocol, they will be fined, the MIAA official said.
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