Power outages at Philippine airports disrupt travel for thousands

Hundreds of flights in and out of Manila halted due to air traffic control malfunction, stranding passengers at airports.

Tens of thousands of travellers have been stranded at airports in the Philippines after a power outage caused a malfunction of air traffic control at the country’s busiest hub in Manila.

The communication and radar equipment failure on Sunday forced hundreds of flights to be cancelled, delayed or diverted, affecting some 65,000 passengers at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport, according to the airport operator.

Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista apologised to people for the halted flights, blaming the power outage for the breakdown that also affected operations at other airports in the country.

He said the outdated existing facility should be upgraded immediately and that a backup system was also needed.

“This is [an] air traffic management system issue,” he told reporters. “If you will compare us with Singapore, for one, there is a big difference, they are at least 10 years ahead of us.”

Passengers look at a screen showing flight information at terminal 3 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay, Metro Manila on January 1, 2023. - Thousands of travellers were stranded at Philippine airports on January 1 after a "loss of communication" at the country's busiest hub in Manila forced hundreds of flights to be cancelled, delayed or diverted. (Photo by KEVIN TRISTAN ESPIRITU / AFP)
Passengers look at a screen showing flight information at Terminal 3 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay, Metro Manila, the Philippines [Kevin Tristan Espiritu/AFP]

The Manila International Airport Authority said in a statement that “the system has been partially restored thereby allowing limited flight operations” as of 08:00 GMT. By late evening, eight flight arrivals and eight departures had been allowed, according to the operator.

“The flight delays and diversions are only precautionary measures to ensure the safety of passengers, crew, and aircraft,” the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said.

The outage hit as many people were planning to travel after the Christmas and New Year break.

Photos and videos circulating on social media showed long queues at the airport and airline personnel distributing food packs and drinks to stranded passengers.

There were chaotic scenes at check-in counters across the country as thousands of people tried to rebook tickets or find out when their flights might take off.

Others who had boarded their aircraft before the glitch was announced waited for hours, then had to disembark.

Tycoon Manny Pangilinan, chairman of Philippine telecommunications conglomerate PLDT Inc, tweeted that he had been flying from Tokyo to Manila when the plane was diverted to Haneda  Airport in Japan due to “radar and navigation facilities” going down.

“6 hours of useless flying but inconvenience to travelers and losses to tourism and business are horrendous. Only in the PH. Sigh,” Pangilinan wrote.

There were 361 flights either delayed, cancelled or diverted to other regional airports on Sunday, while numerous other flights were forced to re-route to avoid Philippine airspace.

“It will take around 72 hours or thereabout for the airlines to normalise their operations,” said Cesar Chiong, general manager of the Manila International Airport Authority.

Philippine Airlines and budget carrier Cebu Pacific both said they were offering passengers due to fly on Sunday free rebooking or the option to convert tickets into vouchers.

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport has previously been ranked among the world’s worst international gateways, with flight delays a regular occurrence, and a history of upgrades being delayed or abandoned due to disputes between the airport and contractors.

The Philippines hopes to take pressure off by building multi-billion dollar airports in Manila’s surrounding provinces, including Cavite and also in Bulacan, which is due to start operations in 2027.

Source: News Agencies