NAIA, Cebu flights put 'on hold' due to technical issues in New Year's Day crisis

Jacque Manabat, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 01 2023 01:51 PM | Updated as of Jan 01 2023 09:32 PM

Domestic travelers get their boarding passes at an electronic booth to board their flight at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 in Pasay City in April 2022. FILE/Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Domestic travelers get their boarding passes at an electronic booth to board their flight at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 in Pasay City in April 2022. FILE/Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — (6TH UPDATE) Hundreds of flights inbound and outbound the Philippines airports were put on hold on New Year’s Day for almost six hours.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) issued a statement, saying the issue was due to a technical problem experienced by the agency’s Air Traffic Management Center.

The air navigation system is used by the aviation authorities to monitor the location of planes and man the traffic airspace capacity entering or leaving the Philippine air space. The upgraded system was inaugurated in 2018. The issue was detected around 10 a.m., or 2 a.m. international time.

Meralco also clarified that it did not monitor any power outage, which an airline claimed was the reason for the “technical issue.” 

CAAP in its statement also said it would be better to put all aircraft on the ground to avoid any airborne incidents.

In a press conference Sunday night, CAAP explained that its air traffic management system suffered from a power outage, and although there was a back-up power supply, it failed to supply enough power for the system.

CAAP also said this is the first time the current system, which was first used in 2018, had this problem.

As of 7:25 p.m., 14 flights at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) have been cancelled, most of which are flights to or from Manila.

MCIA issued a reminder to passengers to check the status of their flights before proceeding to the airport as it has also rescheduled five international flights.

Flag carrier Philippine Airlines said that a number of its flights that had to be delayed were diverted. The airlines said it is coordinating with the aviation authorities on the matter.

Cebu Pacific said in an advisory that all of its flights were put on hold and that it is coordinating with the authorities. It also notified its passengers that there will be flights disruptions as the situation is being managed.

AirAsia Philippines assured its passengers that the retiming and cancellation of flights will be announced as soon as applicable.

Flights were diverted to nearest airports, while some were stuck at airports of origin. At 12 p.m. there were no movements in the Philippine airspace.

Some passengers took to social media their frustration. Others said they were stuck inside a parked plane for over an hour. Meanwhile, some waited for hours at their airport of origin, such as in Caticlan, Mactan-Cebu, and Puerto Princesa. Others who were flying from Bali to Manila were diverted to Kota Kinabalu.

The departure gates of airports began to swell with passengers. They were advised by authorities to stay at the terminal and wait for further announcements or instructions from their respective airlines.

At around 4 p.m., or after six hours, operations at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport were partially restored with the landing of a flight from Brisbane, Australia. The Philippines’ main gateway sent off its first departing flight since the technical issue happened.

As of 8 p.m., CAAP said the air traffic management system has been fully restored, with over 10 arrivals and several other flights already able to depart from NAIA.

NAIA recorded 56,000 affected passengers with 266 cancelled flights, 12 diverted, and seven delayed.

Authorities said that safety is of utmost concern and that they are coordinating for the soonest resumption and normalization of operations.

CAAP said they have already coordinated with airlines in order to accommodate the affected passengers. Authorities also said they will be allowing 24/7 operations of the runways to allow airlines to mount more flights.

But it might take around 72 hours for airport operations to go back to normal, authorities added.

— With reports from Jacque Manabat and Jekki Pascual, ABS-CBN News