By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senator Grace Poe found that the officials of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) had “huge” lapses in handling the mishap at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) when the Xiamen Airliner went off its runway last August 16.
Poe, particularly, mentioned the airport officials’failure in responding to the needs of the thousands of passengers stranded at the airport while they remove the broken Xiamen aircraft at the NAIA 1.
“Talagang mayroon silang malaking kakulangan. Sabihin na natin na ito ay isang pagkakataon na puwede silang matuto, pero malinaw na lahat sila ay nakatutok doon sa pagtatanggal ng eroplano na nakalimutan na nilang tutukan ang mga pasahero na kailangang sumakay pa o kaya kung paano sila bibigyan ng tulong habang naghihintay (They indeed a huge shortcoming. We could call this an opportunity for them to learn, but it was clear that all of them concentrated on removing the airplane that they forgot to pay attention to the passengers who were waiting for their flights or how they could assist them while they were waiting),” Poe, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Services, said after their hearing on the NAIA accident Wednesday.
“This may be an accident and no one planned for this to happen, but it was apparent that protocols were not followed. That’s why it’s saddening because passengers suffered. They said they distributed food, but many complained not receiving. Several passengers were also not informed about their flights, that’s why stayed in the airport. I’m sorry, but the airport management really failed here,” she said in Filipino.
Poe recalled MIAA General Manager Ed Monreal admitting in the Senate inquiry that they were not able to provide food and water to the stranded passengers at the airport during the removal of the Xiamen aircraft in the runway that lasted for 36 hours.
“Your whole resources were just focused on recovery? No wonder there’s chaos [at the airport] after that,” Poe replied Monreal.
She said many of her colleagues in the public services panel also observed the failure of the DOTr and the airport management to coordinate with the airline companies after the accident, causing the chaos in the country’s gateway
In the hearing, senators learned that the MIAA called for a meeting a week after the runway incident. Although their respective representatives have been communicating with the airport management, airline officials told the panel that they only met with the DOTr and MIAA last Friday, August 24.
Monreal, in the agency’s defense, said they had been inviting airline representatives to his press conferences and the site of the accident, but no one came.
Senators also questioned the absence of DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade amid the runway mess. “It took him about a day bago siya nakarating doon sa airport physically,” Poe noted.
Tugade said he chose not to go to the NAIA to avoid making a scene and being a distraction while airport officers work on removing the Xiamen plane. He, however, maintained that he was “on top of the situation,” by supposedly making calls during the recovery operations.
But Poe, refusing to accept this, said, “Kasi para sa ating mga pasahero at para din sa mga empleyado ng airport, siyempre iba ‘pag nakita mo mismo ang Secretary ng Department of Transportation na nando’n.”
She added that if Tugade, and not Monreal, called for the crisis meeting, airline companies would have attended.
Senators also found unacceptable the explanation on why the removal of the broken aircraft took 36 hours.
Monreal said they had to wait for the third-party contractor to arrive and then assemble the crane that will be used to lift the disabled plane. He said they were able contact a crane operator at 9 a.m. the following day, or nine hours after the accident.
He also cited the need to unload the four tons of fuel in the Xiamen aircraft before removing it from the runway. Another private company, Monreal said, had to do the defueling after the plane’s fuel pump failed to function.
Like Tugade, Monreal also blamed the muddy terrain in slowing down their recovery operations.
Tugade, in his opening remarks, said 36 hours was “reasonable” given the circumstances.
Xiamen pilot at fault?
Poe said she might invite the pilot of the Xiamen Air flight MF8667 in an executive session to shed light on what had transpired before the plane skidded the runway.
During the hearing, Poe presented a recording supposedly baring the exchange of messages between the air traffic control tower and the Xiamen Air pilot before the plane overshot the NAIA runway around 11:55 p.m. of August 16.
The recording also showed the track of the Chinese aircraft. It went around before landing.
Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) Director General Jim Sydiongco, however, questioned the authencity of the recording, saying the result of the analysis of the flight data recorder has yet to conclude. The recorder was sent to to Singapore for investigation, he said.
Marlene Singson, chief of air traffic division, citing their official transcipt, said it was the Xiamen Air pilot that initiated the go-around despite being given the clearance to land.
The pilot, Singson said, did not respond when asked about the reason of his go-around. After several minutes, the pilot radioed the control tower to confirm the clearance. But after this, they again lost contact with the pilot and their vision on the plane.
Sydiongco, however, said the flight data recorder, whatever the findings were, cannot be used to determine the liabilty of the Xiamen pilot. Only to correct, prevent further incidents.
The CAAP, he said, is conducting investigation on the pilot’s compliance and adherence to standard operating procedures.
Meanwhile, Xiamen Air apologized anew for the mess created by their disabled aircraft at the NAIA.
“Xiamen Airlines would like to express our regret for the inconvenience [suffered by] those affected this unfortunate incident,” Lin Huagun, country manager of the Xiamen Air, said in a statement translated before the Senate panel.
Lin said the airline company had been coordinating with airport and government authorities since the incident, and provided assistance to affected passengers, particularly their accommodation and meals.
No passengers were injured and no cargoes were damaged or lost, in the accident, he added.
Xiamen Airlines, Lin said, will “cooperate fully” with authorities in the investigation of the incident, as well as with other involved parties “to deal with its consequences.”
Monreal said Xiamen Airlines will be billed at least P30 million for the removal of its disabled plane.