Manila to Dubai flight cancelled as Philippines travel chaos continues

Limited flight operations were allowed after a malfunction with air traffic control caused authorities to close the country's airspace on New Year's Day

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About 60,000 passengers were affected by flight delays, cancellations and diversions in and out of Manila on Sunday after an air traffic control system malfunction caused travel chaos across the Philippines.

There had been a technical glitch with the system at the capital's Ninoy Aquino International Airport, causing Philippines authorities to close the country's airspace for passenger safety reasons.

By Monday, limited flight operations had been allowed as the system was partially restored, according to Manila International Airport Authority.

As of 7am Philippines time on Monday, flights on Cebu Pacific between Manila and Dubai, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore had been cancelled, as well as more than 20 domestic flights, according to the country's Department of Transportation, citing the faulty system.

Flights between Manila and Dubai on Emirates landed later than scheduled on Sunday, while flights from Dubai to Manila landed on time this morning, with return afternoon flights also scheduled to land in the UAE on time.

Morning flights between Abu Dhabi and Manila on Etihad Airways on both days were able to land on time, according to the airline's schedule.

Clips on social media posted overnight showed chaotic scenes at check-in counters across the country as thousands waited for updates and tried to rebook tickets. Long queues could be seen at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, with airport staff distributing food and drinks to affected passengers.

The country's Transport Secretary Jaime Bautista apologised for the inconvenience, saying the air traffic control system should be upgraded immediately and a back-up system installed.

"This is [an] air traffic management system issue," he said in a media briefing. "If you will compare us with Singapore, for one, there is a big difference, they are at least 10 years ahead of us."

The problem started on Sunday morning, when the Air Traffic Management Centre, which oversees all flights in Philippine airspace, lost communication, radio, radar and internet because of the power cut, said Bautista.

On Sunday afternoon, flight tracking service FlightRadar24 tweeted a map of the airspace on showing the impact of the halt in flights.

Some travellers were outraged, among them tycoon Manuel V Pangilinan, chairman of the telecommunication company PLDT, who said he was on his way to Manila from Tokyo when the cut happened.

“We’re told radar and navigation facilities at NAIA are down. I was on my way home from Tokyo – 3 hours into the flight but had to return to Haneda. Six hours of useless flying but an inconvenience to travellers and losses to tourism and business are horrendous,” he tweeted.

Earlier in the day, the country's Civil Aviation Authority said the halt in flights into the Philippines' airspace was to ensure passenger safety.

"The safety of passengers is the priority of the agency and it is better to secure the aircrafts on the ground to avoid any airborne accident," it said in an advisory sent to media, as per local reports.

As limited operations resumed, officials said they requested airlines to mount more flights and to upgrade to more wide-body planes to accommodate more passengers, and that full recovery is expected after 72 hours.

Updated: January 03, 2023, 11:02 AM
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