NSA Carlos tells DOTr, CAAP: Airspace shutdown a threat to national security

The recent technical glitch and power interruption encountered by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) that led to the shutdown of the country’s airspace may be considered a threat to national security.

National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos (File photo courtesy of Senate PRIB)

National Security Adviser (NSA) Clarita Carlos pointed this out as she attended a top-level meeting presided by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) on Tuesday, Jan. 3, where top officials were briefed about the malfunction of the CAAP-operated Communications, Navigation, and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) System that paralyzed operations at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), Clark, Mactan, Davao and other CAAP-operated airports on New Year’s Day.

During the meeting, CAAP officials informed Carlos and Department of National Defense (DND) Officer in Charge Jose Faustino Jr. that the incident “does not appear to be a cybercrime.”

CAAP, in a statement, explained that the affected electrical equipment “cannot be manipulated from outside CAAP compound.”

But Carlos emphasized that the breakdown of vital infrastructure, such as CAAP’s CNS/ATM system, “constitutes a threat to national security and thus, the need for immediate action.”

The shutdown occurred after the CNS/ATM System malfunctioned when a power outage hit the agency’s facilities last Jan. 1.

This resulted in the cancellation, diversion and delay of around 300 flights, affecting around 65,000 passengers.

Senators have called for a probe on the incident to determine the root cause of the problem and possible lapses on the part of CAAP officials.

According to Senator JV Ejercito, the incident should serve as a “wake up call” for the DOTr since it not only affected the country’s economy but also national security as CAAP was practically “blind” when their radars and air management system stopped working.

This initiative from the lawmakers was welcomed by the CAAP.

Meanwhile, Carlos also suggested to DOTr that they declare their communications and electrical equipment as “vital to national security” as she backed plans to upgrade existing CAAP facilities and equipment to prevent a repeat of the incident.

DOTr Sec. Jaime Bautista acknowledged the insights of Carlos and vowed to conduct a review of their systems.

Aside from Carlos and Faustino, top officials and representatives from the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), National Intelligence Coordination Agency (NICA), and Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) attended the meeting and inspected the affected equipment and facilities inside the CAAP compound in Pasay CIty.