(UPDATED) Flights within, into, or out of the Philippines were delayed, diverted, or canceled for at least eight hours on New Year's Day, Jan. 1, 2023, as "technical issues" hit the Air Traffic Management Center (ATMC), the government facility that controls air traffic and optimizes the use of airspace in the country.
The ATMC lost communication, radio, radar, and internet connection at 9:49 a.m. on Jan. 1, disrupting "flights in NAIA as well as in other airports in the country," Department of Transportation (DoTr) Secretary Jaime J. Bautista said in a press statement. The facility resumed "normal operations" while some equipment were still being restored at 5:50 p.m., roughly eight hours after the glitch occurred.
Citing an advisory from the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), which manages the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), the DoTr said 288 inbound and outbound flights at the NAIA were affected, of which 266 were canceled, 12 were diverted, and 7 were delayed. Around 56,000 passengers at the NAIA alone were affected.
At the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA), 128 domestic and international flights had been canceled as of 4:53 p.m., of which 65 were outbound flights and 63 were inbound, the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority said. Several more flights were cancelled later.
Flightradar24, which tracks air traffic around the world in real time, said 53% of flights in Philippine airports were canceled on Jan. 1.
Passengers at the Mactan Airport became aware of the problem when they were advised around noon on Jan. 1 that boarding procedures and all departing flights were put on hold. At 3 p.m., Cebu Pacific Airlines announced that all inbound and outbound flights had been canceled.
Flag carriers Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific Air (CEB) were quick to issue advisories on the delay or diversion of flights.
“A number of flights of PAL and other airlines will need to be delayed or diverted today, 01 January 2023, as a result of technical issues with the navigational air traffic management system for the Manila area, which is affecting departures and arrivals of scheduled flights," the PAL advisory read.
"We are closely coordinating with the aviation authorities on the adjustment of flight schedules and clearances, as the authorities are working expeditiously to resolve this temporary problem," the airline added.
CEB, for its part, said the ATMC was "experiencing power outage and loss of communication which are affecting all operations."
"All flights have been temporarily put on hold. CEB is coordinating with the necessary authorities on when the situation will normalize. Please expect flight disruptions as we manage the situation," it added.
Long queues of passengers waiting to check in for their flights formed in front of the MCIA's domestic check-in counters as the problem persisted. There was also a long line of passengers seeking to enter the departure area of MCIA's domestic terminal.
There were also long queues of passengers trying to arrange transfers after their flights were diverted to Cebu.
CEB announced the cancellation of all its flights at the Cebu airport at around 3 p.m. and advised affected passengers on their rebooking and refund options. Passengers who had checked in their luggage had to claim these at the arrival area.
The DoTr announced the partial restoration of the air traffic management system at 5:30 p.m., saying the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) had allowed the PAL flight PR222 from Brisbane, Australia to land at 4:55 p.m. at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
In separate statements, the MIAA and CAAP apologized for the glitch. The MIAA said it had activated its crisis management team and assured that the passengers' rights under the Air Passenger Bill of Rights (APBR) shall be upheld.
The CAAP's air traffic management system, a P10.8 billion project, was inaugurated by former President Rodrigo R. Duterte nearly five years ago. It was designed to improve the efficiency of the aviation sector and optimize the use of the country's airspace, among others. Read about the air traffic system here.
In a statement, DoTr Secretary Jaime J. Bautista said the glitch was caused by a power outage that damaged the air traffic management system.
“At around 9:49 a.m. local time, the Air Traffic Management Center (ATMC) which serves as the facility for controlling and overseeing all inbound and outbound flights and overflights within the Philippine airspace, went down due to power outage, resulting to loss of communication, radio, radar, and internet,” Bautista announced in an online press conference.
“The primary cause identified was a problem with the power supply and the degraded uninterrupted power supply which had no link to the commercial power and had to be connected to the latter manually. The secondary problem was the power surge due to the power outage which affected the equipment,” he added.
Flightradar24 said mitigations were still in place for Manila as of Jan. 2 morning, "including extra spacing between aircraft and a reduced arrival rate of 15 per hour" at the NAIA. (Marites Villamor-Ilano)