By Hannah Torregoza, Charissa Luci-Atienza, and Dhel Nazario
Seven international and 44 domestic flights were cancelled yesterday at the country’s premier airport as a result of excessive flight delays while authorities took 36 hours to remove the broken down Xiamen airliner off the runway of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
Thousands of air travelers were stranded at the airports around the country and Senator Grace Poe said yesterday that a congressional probe to explain why the removal operations of the stalled airplane at NAIA took so long was forthcoming.
At the House of Representatives, Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento also expressed disappointment over the airport authorities’ handling of the incident – which he described as a “nightmare” – and vowed to have it investigated by the House Committee on Transportation, which he leads.
Poe, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Services, said she would be filing a resolution today, directing her panel to inquire into the operational procedures of airport personnel in responding to such emergency situations following the Xiamen Air Flight MF8667 mishap last weekend.
Poe said she is puzzled why it took about 36 hours to remove a Chinese passenger aircraft from the main runway of NAIA.
Hundreds of domestic and international flights were cancelled for two days while a number of flights had been diverted to Clark or Cebu after a Xiamen Airlines flight veered off while landing amid a heavy downpour on Thursday evening shortly before midnight.
“Ano ba o meron nga bang standard operating procedure sa mga ganitong aksidente? (What is really the standard operating procedure in this kind of accident?) This is not the first time that a plane has skidded off the runway and it certainly won’t be the last,” Poe pointed out.
“Bakit inabot ng dalawang araw bago magsimula ulit ang operasyon ng NAIA? Hindi ba kayang gawin ito nang mas mabilis para hindi gaanong naperwisyo ang libu-libong pasahero? (Why did it take two days before NAIA resumed its operations? Can they not do this faster so it won’t inconvenience thousands of passengers?” Poe asked.
Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade, Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Eddie Monreal, airline executives as well as some affected passengers will be invited to the hearing, Poe said.
“We will give time for airport authorities to have a complete report on the effects of the runway closure during and after the incident,” Poe added.
“Bilang mambabatas, marami tayong nais bigyan ng pansin bukod sa pagsasagawa ng mga pagdinig. Gayunpaman, hindi tayo puwedeng magbulag-bulagan sa pangyayaring ito (As a lawmaker, we want to do something else other than hold a hearing. Nevertheless, we can’t just turn a blind eye on this incident),” the senator added.
She said the panel will also tackle Senate Resolution No. 782 that Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian has filed regarding the status of Metro Manila’s airports and the government’s plans, if any, on modernizing them to meet the growing demand.
The senator pressed for an explanation from airport authorities and airline employees how they handled the situation after comments and stories circulating on social media on the chaotic condition inside the airport even after the runway reopened.
She said wants to check the veracity of reports from social media showing how passengers had to wait for seemingly endless lines and how some were made to wait without food or water.
Flight information displays were also shut so airline staff had to walk around with pieces of paper with the flight details to call for boarding.
Poe said she cannot understand why airport personnel allowed the NAIA to be so crowded, and the apparent lack of policy on advising customers about the runway mishap.
She pointed out that if telecommunication networks are able to send Free Mobile Disaster Warnings, NAIA, on their own initiative, should also send Free Cancelled Flight Alerts for the passengers.
“The public deserves an acceptable explanation. This is important, considering that NAIA remains the primary gateway for foreign tourists into the country. Note, also, that NAIA is operating at overcapacity. It was built to handle some 30 million passengers, but is currently accommodating around 42 million,” Poe pointed out.
The Senate probe will also tackle the status of the P350-billion plan of a private consortium composed of seven conglomerates to rehabilitate and upgrade NAIA submitted to the government last March, she said.
In a related development, Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan urged airport officials and other related government agencies to help resolve the situation at NAIA as soon as possible, “particularly for the stranded passengers who are tired, sleepless, and hungry.”
“Is anyone in charge? Thousands of passengers are stranded in various airports around the country after one plane skidded off the runway while landing at the Manila international airport past 11 p.m. of August 16,” Pangilinan pointed out.
“More than two days have passed, the plane has been removed from the runway but flights continue to be cancelled and diverted, and uncertainty, if not chaos, holds those not just in Philippine airports but all throughout those in the region,” he said.
As far as Rep. Sarmiento is concerned, such a mishandling of the situation at the airport after the accident could have been avoided.
“This could have been prevented kung ang NAIA and other airports authorities, particularly the DOTr, could have anticipated this particular incident. Yong mga skidding naman eh nangyayari naman yan even in the past or even in other jurisdictions. But don sa pagdating ng ganitong sitwasyon, immediate dapat ang response ng ating authorities para maiwasan,” he said in a radio interview.
He said it is imperative to conduct an investigation to ensure that such nightmare will not happen again.
He noted that during their committee deliberations, there was unsolicited proposal to build an airport outside Metro Manila as well as increase the capacity of NAIA.
“My personal take on that is this, even if we increase the capacity ng NAIA we will still encounter the same problem. Not necessarily on capacity but going in and out of NAIA. So, ang pinaka practical na idea dyan ay to move out (So the most practical idea is to move out); create another airport para (so that) it will bring convenience and comfort and avoid traffic in Metro Manila,” the House leader said.
He proposed that Clark Airbase will cater to those living in Bulacan going up to the North or the “north catchment. “ While, those from Quezon City down to Bicol or from the “south catchment” will be assigned to NAIA.
Sen Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito also urged transportation officials to consider creating a “twin airport” system ensconced between Clark International Airport and the NAIA to resolve the air traffic congestion in the runways.
As of now, the senator said he believes that a “twin airport system” similar to Japan be adopted for the convenience of the airline passengers.
“The accident at NAIA is already a signal for a new airport to be built. The single international runway will not really work anymore,” Ejercito said in a text message to reporters.
“At this point the quickest solution for Manila’s airport problems is to have a twin airport system between Clark and NAIA, just like Haneda & Narita in Tokyo,” Ejercito stressed.
Ejercito said the government has to decide now where to build this airport noting that the two past administrations have already passed but they have not made any progress in making any improvements on the airport runways.
The senator, likewise, said the incident also highlighted the need to fast track the rehabilitation of Philippine National Railway (PNR) north rail line to Clark and the construction of the P12-billion terminal building.
“Need to fast track PNR north rail line to Clark and the construction of the P12-billion terminal building. Kaya I’ve been consistent in pushing both the railways and the Clark Airport,” he said.
The country’s official flag carrier Philippine Airlines made further adjustments to its operations due to the mid-day re-opening of Manila’s main runway and its subsequent impact on flight departures and arrivals.
PAL did not operate certain flights on Sunday such as PR104/105 Manila-San Francisco-Manila; PR418/419 Manila-Pusan-Manila; and PR654A Manila-Riyadh.
It also cancelled domestic flights PR2993/2994 Manila-Zamboanga-Manila; PR2519/2520 Manila-Cagayan-Manila; PR2921/2922 Manila-Legazpi-Manila; PR2151/2152 Manila-Iloilo-Manila; PR2967/2968 Manila-Butuan-Manila; PR2557/2558 Manila-Dipolog-Manila; PR2889/2890 Manila-Ozamiz-Manila; and PR2203/2204 Manila-Roxas-Manila
On the other hand, local airline Cebu Pacific announced that issuing of departure clearances for domestic flights has been delayed due to heavy ramp congestion in Manila.
As a result, the following Cebu Pacific cancelled on Sunday domestic flights 5J 110/111 Manila-Hong Kong-Manila; 5J 196/197 Manila-Cauayan-Manila; 5J 321/322 Manila-Legazpi-Manila; 5J 637/638 Manila-Puerto Princesa-Manila; 5J 504/505 Manila-Tuguegarao-Manila; 5J 821/822 Manila-Virac-Manila; 5J 623/624 Manila-Dumaguete-Manila; 5J 781/782 Manila-Ozamiz-Manila; 5J 991/992 Manila-General Santos-Manila; 5J 651/652 Manila-Tacloban-Manila; 5J 385/386 Manila-Cagayan de Oro-Manila.
It also cancelled its flights 5J 110/111 Manila-Hong Kong-Manila; 5J 196/197 Manila-Cauayan-Manila; 5J 321/322 Manila-Legazpi-Manila; 5J 637/638 Manila-Puerto Princesa-Manila; 5J 504/505 Manila-Tuguegarao-Manila; 5J 821/822 Manila-Virac-Manila; 5J 623/624 Manila-Dumaguete-Manila; 5J 781/782 Manila-Ozamiz-Manila; 5J 991/992 Manila-General Santos-Manila; 5J 651/652 Manila-Tacloban-Manila; 5J 703/704 Manila-Dipolog-Manila; 5J 995/996 Manila-General Santos-Manila; 5J 483/484 Manila-Bacolod-Manila; 5J 785/786 Manila-Butuan-Manila; 5J 551/562 Manila-Cebu-Manila; 5J 655/656 Manila-Tacloban-Manila; 5J 479/480 Manila-Bacolod-Manila; 5J 861/862 Manila-Zamboanga-Manila; 5J 459/460 Manila-Iloilo-Manila.