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Costly glitch

After a technical glitch on New Year’s Day singlehandedly managed to shutdown Philippine air space, grounding over 300 flights and leaving almost sixty thousand passengers stranded in airports across the country, the Department of Transportation and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines have suddenly found it important to stress the need to upgrade the country’s “outdated” air traffic navigation system.

In a virtual briefing Sunday night, CAAP Director General Manuel Tamayo said the communications, navigation and surveillance/air traffic management (CNS/ATM) system “was conceptualized way back in the late 90’s, started in 2010 and completed in 2019.”

The Air Traffic Management Center, located at the CAAP office in Pasay City, near NAIA, controls and oversees all inbound and outbound flights and overflights within the country’s airspace.

“So as far as technology is concerned, it is already outdated,” he said.

In the same briefing, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista said that there should be a backup for CAAP’s CNS/ATM system to prevent another embarrassingly catastrophic failure like the one that struck the country on the first day of the year.

Interestingly, CAAP’s P10.8 billion CNS/ATM system that failed spectacularly and immediately declared “outdated” by government officials, was completed only on October 2017, inaugurated in 2018, and began operating on July 26, 2019.

After just three-and-a-half years of operation, that system which was probably touted as an upgrade when it was inaugurated has already made history by shutting down the country’s airspace on New Year’s Day and at the same time declared obsolete.

Now that this critical flaw in the country’s air traffic system has been exposed, it would seem that the Filipino taxpayer will have no choice but to shoulder another expensive upgrade. We can only hope that this time, a viable upgrade path and critical redundancy will be built into the proposed upgrades, so Filipinos don’t have to suffer the humiliation of being one of the few countries in the modern world where avoidable “glitches” can still cripple its air space, cancel and divert hundreds of flights, and affect tens of thousands of air travelers.*

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