Power outage hits Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminal 3


By Macon Araneta | FilAm Star Correspondent

A POWER OUTAGE plunged the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 into darkness overnight, resulting in the cancellation of 82 domestic flights and delay of four international flights.

Cebu Pacific Air, which uses Terminal 3 heavily , said 78 one-way flights were cancelled, affecting at least 13,950 passengers. It gave its passengers the option to refund or rebook.

“We sincerely hope for our guests’ understanding as this situation is due to factors beyond the airlines’ control,” said Cebu Pacific Air.

The country’s national flag carrier Philippine Airlines, which operates PAL Express, had four cancelled flights and 62 delayed flights. Many passengers missed their connecting flights after opting not push through with their schedules due to the long queues outside the dark airport terminal.

PAL is waiving the rebooking fees and charges for all the affected passengers within 30 days. They are also giving the passengers the option to get a refund.

International carriers Cathay Pacific, Emirates, KLM and Singapore Airlines reported at least one delayed flight each.

The blackout hit Terminal 3, which services mostly domestic flights, late on April 2 and power was not restored until before dawn.

Exhausted passengers sprawled on the floor as check-in counters and luggage carousels shut down. Long queues formed outside the terminal as entrances were closed until power was restored.

Terminal 3 handles an average of 350 domestic and international flights daily, according to data from the Transportation Department. It is one of four terminals in a complex that was once dubbed by the travel website Guide to Sleeping in Airports as the world’s worst due to leaking toilets and creaking facilities.

“We are looking into the root cause of this problem,” Terminal 3 operations manager Octavio Lina said.

Manila power retailer Meralco said a transmission line tripped briefly but was restored in minutes, suggesting that the problem could be with the airport’s systems. Airport officials, on the other hand, said full power was not restored until 2 a.m. on April 3.

The four Manila airport terminals were designed for 17 million passengers annually, but overuse has made the airport notorious for flight delays.

Plans to build a new airport outside Manila have not materialized under the Aquino administration. An excruciatingly slow infrastructure overhaul has led to chronic commuter train breakdowns and traffic jams.

The power outage hit 8:45 p.m. on April 2. The terminal’s standby generator set could only sustain the lights. X-ray machines and the computers used by the different airlines operating at Terminal 3 were knocked out of commission until regular power was restored.

Immigration personnel had to process international passengers manually, while health officials had to rely on a portable thermal scanner to clear incoming international passengers. Security personnel had a hard time inspecting luggage of departing passengers, causing long queues at the entrance gates.

Meralco spokesperson Joe Zaldiaraga said they double-checked and were sure that there was no tripping on their side, and that the problem was at the airport.

Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya blamed Meralco for the five-hour outage, but admitted the 10 standby generator sets enough to power the terminal failed to work and transmit power.

Interviewed over radio dzBB, Abaya refused to acknowledge that the generator sets were ill-maintained and insisted the public had to wait for the result of the ongoing probe because the priority of the airport officials was to restore power.

“I have to check. That could be a possibility. Was it fully drained, there was no charging prior to this or was it charged but it didn’t switch power. We will find out before we can say why they didn’t work,” he said.

While power returned at 2 a.m., another outage hit the terminal at 5 a.m., Abaya said.

Abaya said the generator sets did not kick in because no power was transmitted to the building. He said he would alert all other airports nationwide to prevent similar problems with their standby generator sets.

“We will have this checked. If the problem was maintenance, then we have to check [the maintenance procedure] not only in Manila… but all other airports nationwide. But let’s find out what was the real reason the generator sets failed. They have not pinpointed this because last night, the priority was to restore power,” Abaya assured.

Presidential candidate Senator Grace Poe said the power outage in NAIA 3 is once again another embarrassment for the country.

“The power outage clearly manifests the incompetence in the airport authority and the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), airport facilities and management,” said Poe.

“As if the flight delays caused by runway congestion, tanim bala, and ill-maintained terminal infrastructure are not enough, the incident again affected the productivity of our travelling public,” she added.

She noted that our people deserve better because their flying taxes and airport fees should be put to good use to avoid such incidents from happening again.

She called on the DOTC and NAIA general manager Jose Angel Honrado to shape up and deliver the services our people deserve.

Valenzuela Rep. Rex Gatchalian called for the ouster of Abaya and airport officials. He insisted that what happened is no longer a laughing matter. He said a five-hour blackout resulting in cancelled and delayed flights is proof that the transportation secretary and NAIA general manager have been sleeping on their jobs.

He lamented that the lack of a back-up source reflects the kind of leaders that President Aquino had installed at NAIA.

Pasig Rep. Roman Romulo said he is appalled that NAIA 3 had no contingent back-up or back-up plan for such an event. “It showed the lack of competence and foresight of those running the airport and the country’s transportation network, including the breakdown-prone Metro Rail Transit 3.”