MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) - A key navigational instrument used in the Philippines' main international airport conked out on Saturday, forcing the cancellation of many flights.
(Click here for list of cancelled flights and flights that have arrived.)
The Doppler VHF Omnidirectional Ranger (VOR) finder system of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), an instrument which helps determine the approach of airplanes to the runway, broke down.
The instrument is particularly critical at night and when there is bad weather or poor visibility.
However, in a statement late Saturday afternoon, Alfonso Cusi, director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), said airlines can still use the airport even without the VOR.
“It was noted with all airlines that the usage of the airport is based on the agreed procedures using the airport radar in the absence of VOR,’’ said Cusi.
“We have discussed the landing and departure procedures and if they comply, then they can still land and depart at the Manila Airports,” he added.
“Our radar and the distance measuring equipment are operational, our traffic controller can guide them until they reach the 5 miles and 1,500-feet aircraft altitude from the runway. If the weather permits and the approaching aircraft can see the runway, then they can land. If not, they have to divert,’’ Cusi added.
What the VOR is
A report from the Air Navigation Service (ANS) of the CAAP said “the power supply of the antenna tuning unit of the VOR went off, but we are still looking further into the source of the problem but stressed that the radar system is on normal operations”.
The CAAP explained "the VOR is a ground navigational aid used by all Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) aircraft, which determines the proper approach and departure from the runway."
It said "the VOR is a critical component of the Instrument approach procedures of an airport especially during night time and bad weather operations."
Cusi said: “We are now coordinating with Subic Bay Administrator Armand Arreza and they are more than willing to help us. They will give us their VOR since they are not using it anyway."
PAL flights 'normal'
Philippine Airlines (PAL) announced on Saturday that all of its inbound and outbound flights operating out of Manila remain normal.
“PAL is closely coordinating with the airport's traffic control to be able to operate PAL's night flights scheduled to depart/arrive after sunset,” a PAL advisory stated.
PAL added: “Flights coming from the US scheduled to arrive early tomorrow morning are being rescheduled to arrive after sunrise, which is set at 5:28 a.m. These flights are the following: PR105 San Francisco-Manila (ETA 5:40 a.m.), PR103 Los Angeles-Manila (ETA 6:00 a.m.), and PR117 Vancouver-Manila (ETA 5:50 a.m.)."
May divert to Clark
If planes cannot land at the Manila airport, Cusi said the flights can be diverted to the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) in Clark, which is around 50-nautical miles north of Manila.
“The DMIA is ready to receive diverted flights. All staff personnel have been augmented. If still needed, we can also tap the Mactan-Cebu International Airport,’’ he said.
Cusi said there are 155 international and domestic flights coming in and out of Manila after 1700 until 2400 of Saturday.
He said "all airlines have already adjusted their incoming and outgoing flights in anticipation of unfavorable weather conditions tonight."
"Some Philippine Airlines flights coming from the United States and the Middle East have been delayed. Cebu Pacific and Air Philippines have already expressed their contingency plan by informing the CAAP of possible cancellations of flights," the CAAP said.
Manila International Airport (MIA) general manager Melvin Matibag said the heavy downpour possibly caused a short circuit in the 10-year-old equipment.
Lito Casaul, NAIA's technical assistant, said air navigation specialists have been trying to fix the navigational equipment since it broke down at 7:30 a.m.
The CAAP plans to borrow equipment from the Subic International Airport so it can fix the VOR.
Casaul said flights will resume starting sunrise on Sunday even if their technicians fail to fix the equipment.
He said all airlines have been advised about the problem.
"It's incumbent on the airlines to decide on what to do with their flights. Airlines may decide either to cancel or divert their aircraft to their alternate or other airports," Casaul said.
Cebu Pacific cancels flights
Cebu Pacific announced that 28 of its domestic and international flights have already been canceled.
“NAIA navigational equipment (or VORs) broke down early today (June 19) and would likely be fixed by 8 a.m. tomorrow (Sunday), per advisory from the Manila International Airport Authority. As a result, no landings will be allowed from sunset (6:27 p.m.) until 8 a.m. tomorrow when they are expected to be fixed.
"As a result, no landings will be allowed from sunset (6:27 pm) tonight until 8 am tomorrow when they are expected to
be fixed. The VORs (very high frequency omnidirectional radio) aid aircraft navigation, and are especially important in nighttime landings," the country's biggest budget airline said.
Cebu Pacific (CEB) said it had cancelled the following domestic flights to and from Manila:
5J 645/646 MNL-PPS (Puerto Princesa)-MNL
5J 349/350 MNL-KLO-MLA
5J 657/658 MNL-TAC-MNL
5J 903/904 MNL-MPH (Caticlan)-MNL
5J 457/458 MNL-ILO-MNL
5J 459/460 MNL-ILO-MNL
5J 479/480 MNL-BCD-MNL
5J 481/482 MNL-BCD-MNL
5J 579/582 MNL-CEB-MNL
5J 576/575 MNL-CEB-MNL
5J 569/570 MNL-CEB-MNL
5J 657/658 MNL-TAC-MNL
5J 971/970 MNL-DVO-MNL
5J 973/974 MNL-DVO-MNL
5J 969/972 MNL-DVO-MNL
Cebu Pacific said its international flights due to arrive on Sunday will also be delayed “until runway operations resume after sunrise or if the equipment is fixed sooner than expected.”
The airline advised its clients to check its Facebook and Twitter accounts for the re-scheduling of their flights.
Passengers are also advised to contact the hotlines of NAIA's 3 terminals for updates.
Terminal 1: 8771765 or 8771109 loc 4956/3544
Terminal 2: 8771109 loc 2070/2881/2069
Terminal 3: 8777888 loc 8144 to 46.