As the saying goes, “It’s more fun in the Philippines,” and travellersworldwide are drawn to the country’s pristine beaches and lush mountains. However, the journey to these beautiful destinations is not always smooth, as evidenced by two crippling power outages at Manila’s airport this year. These outages, which took place on Labor Day and New Year’s Day, caused chaos and resulted in hundreds of flight cancellations, affecting tens of thousands of passengers.
To prevent such incidents from happening in the future, the Philippines has decided to close the entire country’s airspace for six hours on May 17 to replace malfunctioning electrical equipment. Bryan Co, senior assistant general manager at the Manila International Airport Authority, said in a press briefing on Tuesday that “it’s the entire Philippine airspace that will be shut down.”
The work will replace the uninterruptible power supply for the air traffic management centre. The airspace closure will occur between 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. local time, a period of lower air traffic. Co has urged airlines to prepare for the closure by re-arranging their flight schedules and informing passengers of alternative arrangements in advance.
While the airspace closure may cause inconvenience, it is necessary to ensure all passengers’ safety and maintain smooth operations at the airport. Travellers are advised to check with their airlines for any changes to their flight schedules and plan accordingly.
The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL), which has served as the primary international gateway to the Philippines for the past 75 years, is struggling to manage the surge in passenger traffic since the lifting of pandemic restrictions. This led to a significant disruption on May 1, when Terminal 3 experienced a nearly nine-hour power outage, resulting in the cancellation of 48 domestic flights operated by Cebu Pacific during the Labor Day weekend.
Unhappy passengers flocked to Cebu Pacific’s counters, frustrated by the lack of information on their flight arrangements. Videos from CNN affiliate CNN Philippines showed crowds of passengers heckling staff. Following the incident, the airport authority announced that a complete electrical analysis would be conducted to determine the upgrades necessary to avoid such incidents in the future. The audit may take up to 90 days to complete.
Before the incident, a new consortium known as the Manila International Airport Consortium (MIAC) had proposed a set of upgrades to the national government to increase the capacity of the country’s largest airport. The conglomerate of six groups aims to double the annual passenger capacity to 62.5 million by 2028. According to the consortium, the airport was designed to handle 31.5 million passengers but processed 48 million in 2019. The planned upgrade is expected to cost $1.8 billion (100 billion Philippine pesos).
The upgrade was long overdue, as demonstrated by the severe power outage that stranded tens of thousands of passengers at the airport during the busy year-end travel season on New Year’s Day this year. The Philippine government launched an official investigation into the incident, which affected nearly 300 flights, leading to delays, cancellations, or diversions to other regional airports, and impacted at least 56,000 passengers.
To avoid such incidents in the future and improve the airport’s capacity, MIAC’s proposed upgrades are critical. It is crucial to prioritise the necessary updates based on the audit’s results to prevent further disruptions and enhance the passenger experience.