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Unforgivable shortcomings

Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines officials were castigated by senators Thursday for alleged lax security as they remain clueless on the root cause of the massive disruption of flights on New Year’s Day which affected more than 65,000 passengers due to cancellations, diversions and delays over 360 domestic and international flights.

At the hearing called by the Senate committee on public services, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri was surprised to learn that CAAP had no security cameras to monitor the vital equipment of the country’s communication, navigation, surveillance / air traffic management (CNS/ATM) system.

CAAP said it had traced the problem to a power outage in the CNS/ATM, the heart of the air traffic control system of the country’s airspace. However, Zubiri found it difficult to believe that the system just conked out on its own and any negligence or sabotage should’ve been captured by closed-circuit television camera inside the equipment room.

CAAP Director General Manuel Antonio Tamayo said the Air Traffic Management Center had very tight security and parts of it were covered by CCTV, but the room housing the air navigation and electrical supply equipment had no cameras.

According to the Senate President, it was “unforgivable” that CAAP operated the CNS/ATM system worth billions of pesos without considering the installation of CCTV cameras to monitor the security of its “very sensitive” equipment. He also lamented that the systems failure caused a “big black eye” to the country’s reputation.

The hearing also focused on the lack of proper maintenance of the CNS/ATM equipment which was apparently due to a legal dispute between the Department of Transportation and Sumitomo-Thales. The DOTr had supposedly failed to settle up to P986 million in unpaid claims while the DOTr also claims up to P644 million allegedly due to delays in the delivery of the system. Whatever the reason, the DOTr didn’t value proper maintenance enough to find a solution to the issue.

The more investigations are made into the monumental CAAP blunder on New Year’s Day, the more shortcomings are being discovered. Given the lack of redundancy systems, poor security and improper maintenance that was considered normal and allowed to fester within the organization, disastrous and embarrassing failures are no longer a matter of if, but when.*

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January 2023
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