MANILA, Philippines – Operations at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) returned to normal Saturday night after thick smog disrupted flights at the airport.
The NAIA media affairs office declared that all operations were back to normal at 11 p.m. Saturday as the haze lifted. Some of the diverted planes were also asked to fly back to Manila airport, Edwin Llubrera of the airport media relations office told AFP.
A total of 10 international flights were cancelled, 12 were diverted and 18 were delayed due to poor visibility at the NAIA. Twenty-six domestic flights were also cancelled, 37 were diverted and 26 were delayed.
Aviation authorities blamed pollution for the poor visibility at the airport.
Joselito Casaul, senior technical assistant at the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), explained that poor visibility was due to a “sink haze” brought about by pollution.
This was worsened by humidity or the absence of wind that could have helped dissipate the haze, he added.
“Let me correct that term ‘some haze.’ It was sink haze. This kind of phenomenon does not appear everyday... It was just today (Saturday) because on the phenomena of haze, we cannot control and it becomes haze,” he told ANC’s “Prime News” on Saturday.
“Actually it started even before sunrise and it went on until about just noontime,” he said, noting that there is usually haze in Manila.
“Most of the time that is due to pollution. And it was exceptionally thick today (Saturday) because it was heeded by a no-wind condition, because this usually dissipates once wind comes in,” he stated.
Casaul added that flights that were diverted were those whose pilots or aircrafts have not yet been certified for the airport's new navigation equipment, the runway navigation- global positioning system.
Such equipment helps pilots land in poor visibility conditions. He cited that during the haze, 20 flights that had been certified were able to land safely.
‘NAIA glitch could happen again’
From around 7:30 a.m. until about 12 p.m. Saturday, 34 aircraft landed at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) in Pampanga after they were not able to land at the NAIA due to poor visibility.
As the weather improved, diverted flights started returning to Manila shortly before noon.
The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), however, feared that Saturday's incident could happen again unless the airport's equipment would be replaced.
Despite the bad weather, and even when it is dark, planes can still land if the airport has enough equipment to guide them.
The alleged problem is that the airport's very high frequency omnidirectional radio range (VOR) and instrumental landing system (ILS) are still not working. They are currently being repaired.
“Makakatulong ang VOR, mas may tsansa na makalapag pa rin ang mga eroplano,” said MIAA General Manager Melvin Matibag. “Hindi naman expected ‘yan. Paumanhin doon sa publiko kung nagkaroon ng delay na ganyan, hindi natin gusto ‘yan.”
The airport’s management also explained that it would be dangerous for planes to land if the runway is not visible 5 kilometers from the ground. This is why pilots, with a go-signal from the CAAP, opted to land in another airport.
Matibag added: “Iniisip naming safety ng passengers… kung hindi 100% safe we don't take the risk.”
Hundreds of passengers were dismayed over Saturday’s incident. Among them was Queenie, a balikbayan.
She was so happy to return home after working in Singapore, but the incident ruined her excitement.
Stranded passenger Ann Sta. Barbara added: “Thirty minutes kaming paikot-ikot sa air sa NAIA. Doon lang sinabi na nagkaroon pala ng problema. Sana man lang nagkaroon ng sasakyan na dadalhin kami sa NAIA.”
Businessman Steve Ward also had sour words over the delay, which forced him to cancel his business transactions in Manila.
“They are saying that they have to prevent the plane from landing. It doesn’t make any sense,” complained Ward. “I don't agree that poor visibility is the reason... Now I have to make phone calls for the person in Manila that I can't make it.”
Another stranded passenger was Shirley dela Peña’s brother-in-law from Saudi Arabia. Dela Peña came all the way from Pangasinan and has been at the airport since 3 a.m.
“Pagod at nagugutom na kami. Akala namin makakabalik kami kaagad,” she said.
Most of the flights that have been diverted to DMIA were international flights. These included Philippine Airlines, Royal Brunei Airlines, Jetstar Airways, Air Philippines, Zest Air, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, SEAIR, Cebu Pacific, China Airlines and Air Micronesia.
President Aquino, meanwhile, will meet with Transportation Secretary Jose de Jesus on Monday to discuss the incident.
“Two years ago pa ang problema sa equipment pero it hasn’t been resolved..... That's a problem that could have been attended to, but was not attended to. Plus, ‘yong lack of good governance,” he said. – With reports from ANC, Monica Magpantay of ANC, Jeff Canoy and Ryan Chua of ABS-CBN News, and Agence France-Presse