Thousands of passengers were stranded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) on Monday due to the cancelation of at least 46 domestic flights following an eight-hour brownout at Terminal 3.
Authorities identified a “fault current” as the cause of the power outage on Labor Day – just as people were coming and going from a long weekend — but an investigation is still ongoing to determine the root of the issue, which impacted some 9,000 passengers.
Later, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) ordered a full electrical audit on NAIA Terminal 3, and possibly for Terminals 1 and 2 as well.
Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista said the MIAA will implement the electrical audit as recommended by the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and added he will ask the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) to investigate for possible sabotage.
“If there was sabotage … we are not discounting that,” he added.
Manila International Airport Authority General Manager Cesar Chiong said the power outage, reported at 1:05 a.m. on Monday, affected mostly domestic passengers on 24 flights, with some international flights delayed.
The power outage also resulted in disrupted communications, the closure of stores and other businesses, poor ventilation, and the delayed departure of some international flights at the terminal.
Airlines had to resort to manual check-in and loading of baggage while processing passengers at immigration booths took longer than usual.
This happened four months after the New Year’s Day air space shutdown that affected hundreds of flights and 65,000 passengers at the country’s premier airport.
“There are a lot of possible causes of the power failure, so it’s time to do a full electrical audit since NAIA 3 was built in the 1990s… We will ask the help of Meralco for us to conduct the audit,” Bautista said.
“We really need to do procurement for the airport because it is a huge job. Meralco said it may take 60 to 90 days (for audit and repairs) for Terminal 3 alone,” he added.
“On behalf of the MIAA management, we really would like to extend our apologies to all the passengers… and everyone that was affected by this power interruption,” Chiong said in a virtual briefing on Monday.
“We really would like to thank all of our airline operators because they made sure that the impact to the operations and the power interruptions were really minimized and in fact, it was confined to domestic flights,” he said.
Chiong said the 9,000 affected passengers were equivalent to 7% of the total number of passengers who usually travel through NAIA Terminal 3, while the 24 roundtrip flights canceled translates to 6.5% of the 750 to 760 flights operated.
Cebu Pacific Air (CEB) canceled 46 domestic flights to and from Cebu, Caticlan, Butuan, Bacolod, Zamboanga, Puerto Princesa, Dipolog, General Santos, Ozamiz, Legazpi, Pagadian, Cotabato, Iloilo, Davao, and Cauayan.
CEB management offered affected passengers to make a “Refund, Rebook their flights without fare difference for travel up to 30 days from the original flight date, or Store the amount in a virtual CEB wallet valid for six months and use this to either book a new flight or pay for add-ons such as baggage allowance and seat selection.”
“We thank our passengers for their patience and understanding,” Cebu Pacific said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Air Asia Philippines made slight changes in the scheduled departure of nine flights. Those affected include domestic flights to and from Caticlan and Cebu, and international flights to and from Taipei, Osaka, and Incheon.
Air Asia Communications and Public Affairs Country head Steve Dailisan also offered an apology to all affected guests.
“While waiting for the power supply to be restored, our ground staff have offered snacks and refreshments and have attended to other needs of our guests. We are also closely working with the MIAA management to minimize any inconvenience in the present circumstances,” he said.
The MIAA and Meralco were able to put up the regular power at around 8:46 a.m., according to Bautista, as he expressed his gratitude to the power retailer for its swift response.
The Transportation Secretary likewise apologized to the affected passengers, who were provided water and food through the MIAA staff, he said.
On January 1 this year, the power outage and technical glitch at NAIA caused 282 flights to be canceled or delayed, affecting 56,000 passengers.
In September 2022, a power outage also hit NAIA 2, causing the delay of at least 31 flights.
The latest incident “shows another disruptive failure of the airport systems,” Sen. Grace Poe said.
The Senate Public Service Committee chair said this failure of the country’s premier airport has been causing grave inconvenience to travelers.
The lack of functioning air conditioners in several parts of the airport, Poe noted, is not only troublesome but could even be precarious to passengers’ health, especially of the elderly.
She said it is unacceptable that every time there’s a brownout or power outage, “all airport systems are delayed, including the flights of our travelers.
“It would appear that the DOTr and NAIA have not learned their lessons on their failures,” Poe said.
Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said wants to know “a good explanation” from the agencies involved and is “hoping to understand their explanation.”
“I am very confident to say that their sitting on the problems is not acceptable,” he said. “Imagine, I was there at the CAAP facility to check the equipment they have been boasting of, only to be surprised that they were not functioning.”
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said the power outage could have been avoided if the necessary measures are already in place. He said the MIAA should at least have an interruptible power supply, considering the thinning of the power supply this summer season when demand usually peaks.
Estrada noted that Senate Committee Report No. 39 already identified the absence of redundancy or systems backup as among the critical reasons that led to the airport shutdown last January 1. This was along with the issue of lack of real maintenance to the airport equipment.
Sen. Nancy Binay said the incident pointed to a string of inadequacies “that showed how weak, bad, and vulnerable our airports are.”
She related that only a few months after the New Year power outage, “we are again in every social media portal, news channel, and newspaper across the world.”
“Sadly, the message that we are actually sending the world: Travelling in the Philippines has become an unpleasant and frustrating experience,” she said.
“Our gateway to the Philippines has literally become a port of inconvenience to travelers and tourists,” added Binay.