Backup needed for Naia’s ‘outdated’ equipment–DOTr | Inquirer News

Backup needed for Naia’s ‘outdated’ equipment–DOTr

Air navigation system already ‘outdated’ and should be upgraded to prevent repeat of New Year’s Day technical glitch that grounded over 300 flights; recommendation already made to President Marcos.

Backup needed for Naia’s ‘outdated’ equipment–DOTr

WAITING IN LINE Passengers queue at Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 in Pasay City as they wait to board their flights following the resumption of airport operations on Monday. —RICHARD A. REYES

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap) have stressed the need to upgrade the country’s “outdated” air traffic navigation system after a technical glitch on New Year’s Day grounded over 300 flights and left tens of thousands of passengers stranded at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) and other gateways. Caap Director General Manuel Tamayo said on Monday that they had already made recommendations to President Marcos about improving the country’s air traffic management system.

In a virtual briefing on Sunday night, he told reporters that Caap’s communications, navigation and surveillance/air traffic management (CNS/ATM) system “was conceptualized way back in the late ’90s, started in 2010 and completed in 2019.”


“So as far as technology is concerned, it is already outdated,” Tamayo said.


In the same briefing, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista said that there should be a backup for Caap’s CNS/ATM system to prevent another failure like the one that led to the cancellation of all flights to and from Manila on Jan. 1.

“We really need to have a backup system [that is hopefully] located in a different location,” he said. The Air Traffic Management Center, located at Caap’s office in Pasay City, near Naia, controls and oversees all inbound and outbound flights and overflights within the country’s airspace.


Bautista said that they would conduct a feasibility study on the project and present it to the National Economic and Development Authority.

“Maybe we can still use it but we need to upgrade this to a better system,” he said, noting that the country’s CNS/ATM system was 10 years behind compared to the one used by Singapore.

Caap’s P10.8-billion CNS/ATM system, which was funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, was completed in October 2017. It was inaugurated in 2018 and began operating on July 26, 2019.

The system used to direct air traffic is composed of 13 radars strategically located across the country, including Naia 1, Clark, Tagaytay, Aparri, Laoag, Cebu-Mt. Majic, Quezon-Palawan, Zamboanga, Naia 2, Mactan, Bacolod, Kalibo and Davao.

Tamayo said that this year, Caap allocated P124 million for system upgrades in the hopes of extending the CNS/ATM’s life on top of daily monitoring.

First major glitch

According to him, the technical glitch was the first of this magnitude since its inauguration.

“This is the first time that we encountered such an issue,” Tamayo said. The system resumed partial operations by 4 p.m. on Sunday, with normal operations restored almost two hours later.

Caap’s Aerodrome and Air Navigation Safety Oversight Office said it would hold an investigation as the “main cause of the power supply problem” that caused the CNS/ATM system to go offline on Sunday morning had yet to be determined.

The system, Tamayo said, uses two power sources: commercial (from Manila Electric Co.) as the primary and a standby generator capable of fully operating the whole system. There are two uninterruptible power supply (UPS) units designed to work in case the other one fails.

“What happened was one of the UPS failed and when it failed, the commercial power or the standby power could not come in,” Tamayo said.

The other UPS also did not work and when Caap technicians did some troubleshooting, one of its cooling blowers conked out after flashing a warning and emitting a grinding (“umugong”) sound.

Technicians then bypassed the broken UPS and placed an automatic voltage regulator intended to regulate the system power to 220 volts. But they were forced to shut the system down due to over-voltage after the electricity shot to 380 volts, Tamayo said.

The very small aperture terminal (VSAT) or the dish-like equipment located outside the air traffic monitoring system was damaged as a result. The VSAT receives signals/satellite data from airplanes and air traffic management systems and is also used for communication, navigation and transmission of all necessary data.

“When they saw the two (VSATs)—one is a standby, one is a main—what they did was to transfer one of the modules from the standby to the primary,” Tamayo said. After the transfer, the CNS/ATM system was back online and normal operations resumed by 5:50 p.m.

Tamayo noted that as early as 4 p.m., they were able to resume partial operations with limited capacity after restoring communications with the Tagaytay radar, which served as a supplement to the system.

Major setback

Sen. Nancy Binay called for Caap to launch a full audit of all navigational and communications equipment installed in all airports in the country, fearing that a repeat of a similar “technical glitch” might lead to disasters.

The chair of the Senate committee on tourism also expressed concern over the “major setback” that Sunday’s technical issues dealt to Philippine tourism.

“It was fortunate that no accident happened… but what happened last Sunday is scary and terrifying, and anyone who has plans of traveling to the Philippines this year may have second thoughts of visiting,” Binay said.

She urged the DOTr, Office of Transportation Security, Caap, Manila International Airport Authority, Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority, and Luzon International Premier Airport Development to start identifying current and potential hazards related to airport operations.

“Our airports, being critical facilities, should have a reliable backup system to handle these kinds of extraordinary and emergency situations. What happened on Sunday clearly demonstrates how vulnerable we are, and with either a hardware or software glitch, we can all be crippled,” Binay said.

No runway closure

MIAA General Manager Cesar Chiong, meanwhile, said they were coordinating with airline companies, especially Philippine Airlines (PAL), Cebu Pacific and AirAsia Philippines, adding that the Naia runway would not be closed “for the next few days” to accommodate more flights. The runway is usually closed from 1:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m.

“Basically, all the airlines, especially those with flights that can accommodate night landings, can also put in more flights,” Chiong said. He also asked the airlines if they could operate “more wide-bodied flights to accommodate more passengers.”

“[We] need to provide 24/7 operations for these airlines for them to mount more flights and the sooner they mount more flights, the better. We’re expecting about 72 hours for them to fully recover the flights,” he added.

As of Jan. 2, PAL noted that it had canceled over 220 flights, affecting nearly 30,000 passengers while Cebu Pacific had called off 334 flights with over 37,000 passengers. AirAsia Philippines, on the other hand, had canceled 44 flights with over 8,000 passengers. —WITH A REPORT FROM MELVIN GASCON INQ


Naia power outage, tech glitch shut PH airspace

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CAAP admits: PH’s air traffic management system outdated


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