Senate to look into shutdown of PH airspace on New Year’s Day
The Senate will look into the power outage and technical glitch that crippled the country’s flight operations on New Year’s Day to determine who should be held liable and to prevent it from happening again.
The double whammy left 56,000 passengers stranded and affected over 300 flights to and from Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia), also prompting a businessman to push for the revival of a 2018 proposal to modernize the airport through a consortium.
Sen. Grace Poe said on Monday that a hearing would be conducted as part of the Senate’s oversight function “to determine who is liable, and what we need to do to avoid the malfunction from happening again.”
The chair of the Senate public services committee said that for now, officials of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) and Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap) should be allowed to work on fully restoring airport operations.
“After which, we will conduct an inquiry and direct them to submit a full report of what caused the supposed glitch and power outage,” Poe said in a Viber message.
“This is a national security concern. Thousands of lives depend on the efficiency and competence of CAAP,” she stressed.
Poe said it was possible that CAAP and its navigation equipment were to blame for the incident after the Manila Electric Co. clarified that the airport had an uninterrupted power supply.
“There needs to be transparency and accountability from CAAP,” she added.
Sen. JV Ejercito and his half-brother, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, both supported Poe’s move for an investigation, with the latter saying that CAAP officials had “a lot of explaining to do.”
“This is embarrassing. It’s a double black eye for our country,” Estrada said. “This could destroy the country’s image and affect the tourism sector.”
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian also echoed his colleagues’ sentiments, saying that airport officials should be held accountable for the technical glitch that paralyzed air travel in and out of Naia.
At the same time, he urged MIAA and CAAP to look after passengers who remain stranded at the international airport and other gateways. (See related story on this page)“The public, particularly affected passengers, should also be appraised of the latest situation and should be made aware of new flight schedules,” Gatchalian said in a statement.
According to the senator, the country’s airport systems have “an impact beyond managing incoming and outgoing flights.”
“The government must do everything in its power to ensure that this doesn’t happen again given the impact it would have on affected passengers and the negative impression that it would have on our foreign visitors,” Gatchalian said.
“It is unfortunate to see a crisis-like situation such as this at Naia at a time when demand for air travel in the country has just been restored to normal levels following the lifting of travel restrictions which were imposed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.
For Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion, it was high time to revive a 2018 proposal calling for the formation of a consortium to modernize Naia.
“Naia is strategically located and any improvements made there will redound to so many benefits to the country,” he said, pointing out that similarly, any inefficiencies translate into big business losses felt nationwide.
“I believed then, as I do now, that the private sector can contribute so much if allowed to participate,” Concepcion said.
Under the consortium’s proposal, Naia would have a 20-percent increase in efficiency, making it a world-class gateway. There would also be no government guarantees and no moratorium on the construction of another major airport.
Originally, the rehabilitation project to decongest and increase the airport’s capacity was to be carried out in three phases from 2021 to 2024.
In 2018, the consortium’s unsolicited proposal was recommended for approval by the Department of Transportation to MIAA, the primary government agency for the project. In August that year, the consortium secured from the government an original proponent status for its plan which the National Economic and Development Authority board approved in November 2019.
But in March 2020, then Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said he would cancel the unsolicited proposal and offer it to parties willing to accept the government’s terms and conditions if a deal was not finalized. Later in July, the consortium withdrew the proposal due to unresolved issues with the government.
The consortium comprised some of the country’s biggest conglomerates, namely Aboitiz InfraCapital Inc., AC Infrastructure Holdings Corp., Alliance Global Group Inc., Asia’s Emerging Dragon Corp., Filinvest Development Corp., JG Summit Holdings Inc. and Metro Pacific Investments Corp.
Concepcion, who was responsible for forming the consortium, recalled that the idea for its creation was first put forward in 2017, when the country was preparing for an Asean summit.
“All of the conglomerates were interested in seeing the project push through,” he said, adding that it would have been good for their respective businesses such as air travel, real estate or retail.
“We were all in agreement that connectivity is important, and even the tycoons who were not formally part of the group pitched in to see how they can help,” Concepcion said.
“Having seen how badly key systems in our air transportation system need to be modernized, and how severely any glitch can affect the whole country, I hope that this time, we can revive this proposal and see it through,” he said. INQ