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Still powerless

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Merely five months after the catastrophic power-related failure shut down the entire Philippine airspace, when a faulty circuit breaker caused two uninterruptible power supply units of the Communications, Navigation and Surveillance / Air Traffic Management System (CNS/ATM) to bog down and paralyze the system for over nine hours, disrupting over 300 flights and affecting over 65,000 passengers, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport was again hit by another substantial power shortage.

Lasting nearly eight hours this time, the power outage at NAIA Terminal 3 started in the wee hours of May 1, stranding thousands of passengers as dozens of flights were canceled or delayed, as the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) used generation sets that could only supply partial power for the check in system, immigration system, final security x-ray, arrival baggage carousel, elevators, escalators, air conditioning, and lights.

Carrier Cebu Pacific had to cancel at least 48 flights with almost 9,400 passengers, while Air Asia had to delay the trips of some 4,000 guests.

As usual, Senators vowed once again to exact accountability over the latest air transport embarrassment, even as the Department of Transportation and MIAA have apparently not yet taken steps to prevent a repeat of the New Year’s Day fiasco, which they also investigated with gusto. New UPS units were procured, but the promise to make heads roll after the investigation, has unsurprisingly not materialized.

The Labor Day power outage that yet again substantially crippled airport operations serves as another grim reminder of the importance of power redundancy in the country’s premier international gateway. As with the New Year’s Day failure, there was no major weather disturbance or natural disaster, no act of God. The latest embarrassment was wrought upon us simply the plain old, boring failure of the humans responsible to provide the necessary systems and measures to ensure continuous airport operations, especially when it comes to something as basic as the supply of electrical power.

Is this problem hounding NAIA really more complicated than it looks, or do the people in charge simply lack the competency to solve it? What is government going to do about this seemingly unsolvable problem with our airports?*

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