Tens of thousands of travellers were stranded at the airport on New Year’s Day in the Philippines after a power outage caused a malfunction of air traffic control at the country’s busiest hub in Manila.The power outage temporarily impacted air traffic control, disrupting nearly 300 flights in the Southeast Asian hub.
The large-scale flight disruptions come amid a busy annual year-end travel period in the Philippines, which sees large numbers of foreign tourists as well as overseas citizens flying into the country from abroad to mark Christmas and New Year, some of the country’s most important holiday celebrations.
Notably, Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) is the main gateway for travellers to the Philippines, serving the capital Manila and the surrounding region.
Photos and videos shared online showed massive crowds at NAIA. Snaking queues were seen at several check-in counters. Many passengers lugging around their luggage were also spotted huddling around flight arrival screens waiting for updates.
Technical issues were first detected on Sunday morning, the airport operator, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), said in a statement.
A total of 282 flights were either delayed, cancelled, or diverted to other regional airports while around 56,000 passengers were affected as of 4 pm local time on New Year’s Day, it added.
In a press conference held on the evening of Sunday, Philippine Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista apologised for the inconvenience caused to passengers and said that the airport’s central air traffic control system had suffered from a severe power outage.
Although there was a backup power supply, it had failed to supply enough power, he added.
“This was an air traffic management system issue,” Bautista said. “If you will compare (our airport) with Singapore’s, for one, there is a big difference – they are at least 10 years ahead of us,” he said.
Bautista added that his transportation department had also coordinated with the affected airlines to provide food, refreshments, transportation, and accommodation “free of charge to all affected passengers.”
Among the flights affected by the airspace outage was a Manila-bound Qantas plane that departed from Sydney shortly before 1 pm local time on January 1. Three hours into its eight-hour journey, Flight QF19 was then forced to turn around mid-flight and return to Australia, reported CNN.
“All airlines were prevented from arriving into Manila on Sunday afternoon as local authorities closed the local airspace,” Qantas said in a statement. “This meant our flight from Sydney had to turn around.”
Operations had partially resumed as of 5:50 pm local time, CAAP said in an update, and the airport had again begun to accept inbound flights. A statement from the Department of Transport shared on Facebook said that airport operations were back to normal while equipment restoration was still ongoing.
Global air travel was hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic but passenger traffic has been slowly recovering, with industry experts predicting the industry to return to previous normal levels by 2025.