Manila ATC Back Online

Manila Control Are you there?
By Recto L. Mercene
September 15, 2009
THE Area Control Center (ACC) radar display went into partial operations on Monday, allowing aircraft to land and take off subject to delays. The ACC radar consoles and communications went out of commission on Sunday due to a failed power supply, causing scores of local and international flights to cancel or suffer long delays.

FLIGHT operations resumed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) at 8 p.m. on Sunday, although air controllers had warned local and international air carriers of continued delays.

As of press time, two of the four radar screens and all radio communications at the Manila Area Control Center (Macc) were in partial operations.

The air controllers have adopted a “flow control” system that limits arrivals and departures, giving them five-minute separations so as to assure relatively fast and safe landing and takeoff.

At 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, power fluctuations at the Naia triggered a chain reaction that affected communication links with pilots and air-traffic centers, including a power loss that prevented the long-range radar display from showing aircraft on the air.

The head of the Manila International Airport Authority (Miaa) on Monday explained that Sunday’s power outage affected the flight operations handled by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap), and not the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia).

“The Naia itself was a victim of the power failure, although we were able to immediately put into operations our backup power,” said Miaa general manager Alfonso Cusi.

He said the Miaa lend a battery system to augment those of the Caap providing air-to-ground communications among pilots and air controllers.

Meanwhile, the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco)—the country’s largest power distributor—clarified that the problem that affected the Naia operations on Sunday was due to internal technical trouble.

In a statement, Meralco traced the problem to the power supply of the air-traffic communication systems, and not to the massive loss of power or blackout of Meralco circuits supplying the airport complex.

Ricardo Buencamino, Meralco executive vice president and networks group head, said the power to its Sunvalley circuit serving Naia’s radar station and Malibay circuit, which serves the air-traffic control tower, was normal.

Buencamino said the circuits did not encounter power disruptions that could adversely affect Naia’s communication systems.

Although a circuit from its ParaƱaque substation serving Naia Terminals 1 and 2 tripped off at about 2:29 p.m on Sunday, power was immediately restored in three seconds. This is consistent, Buencamino said, with the advisory released by Caap director general Ruben Ciron “that what they encountered was a technical problem which their technical people immediately worked on.”

Meralco recalled that operations at Naia were also disrupted on September 13, cutting off communication links between pilots and the air- traffic center, and causing failure of the long-range radar display, which caused the delay and diversion of international and domestic flights on that day.

GMA orders Caap to report

President Arroyo has ordered the Caap to submit a report detailing the cause of the power outage that crippled operations at the Naia on Sunday.

Deputy Presidential Spokesman Anthony Golez said in a news briefing the report would be the basis of further directives from MalacaƱang, if necessary.

Golez said the report is expected to show whether there are certain “inefficiencies” in the Naia service system that must be addressed to prevent a repeat of Sunday’s problems.

Non-radar operations

AS a result of the temporary communication and radar failure, Caap air controllers put into operations on Sunday the nonradar procedure in handling flights beyond the 60 nautical miles radius. The long-range radar that went kaput is capable of monitoring aircraft within a 250-mile radius.

The incident caused Cebu Pacific to continue to experience flight delays of approximately 15 to 20 minutes due to flow-control restrictions at the Macc. As of 10 a.m. on Monday, CEB said on-time performance was still at 94-percent systemwide and there are no planned cancellations at this time.

CEB mounted an extra flight to Puerto Princesa on Monday morning to accommodate the passengers who missed their flights on Sunday. The airline advised guests to call their office first and visit the web site for updates.

The Caap issued a notice-to-airmen (Notam) about the communication and radar glitch at 3:50 p.m. on Sunday and, at the same time, reassuring a return-to-normal procedure later in the evening of Monday.

While the long-range radar of the Manila ACC remains out of commission, the Manila Approach Radar, a medium-range radar, took over the task of guiding air traffic.

Ciron said when the power failure occurred, the uninterrupted power supply (UPS), which would have assured the continuity of communications and operability of the radar system, failed to activate for the first time.

The incident happened at a time when the transportation and communications department and the Caap are in the midst of replacing the radar and power infrastructure, which includes the 13-year-old UPS and similar aging equipment.

Currently, the DOTC and the Caap are implementing the new Communications, Navigation, Surveillance and Air Traffic Management project, which will modernize the country’s air-navigation system.

Ciron said the Caap has put in place a contingency plan to prevent the recurrence of a similar incident. (With M. Gonzalez, P.A. Isla)

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