By Wilnard Bacelonia

INSPECTION. Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senators JV Ejercito and Grace Poe (from left) make the rounds of the Air Traffic Management Center at the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines in Pasay City on Feb. 6, 2023. After a series of inquiries, the Senate Committee on Public Services ruled out sabotage or cyberattack in the Jan. 1 air traffic control glitch, recommended replacement or continuous upgrade of equipment, and proposed amendments to or creation of laws to assist CAAP in its mandate. (PNA photo by Avito Dalan)

MANILA – The Senate has ruled out sabotage and cyberattack during the Jan. 1 air traffic control glitch that affected about 280 flights and 60,000 passengers.

Instead, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) should continue replacing or upgrading critical equipment to prevent similar incidents.

As for the non-technical aspects, the Senate Committee on Public Services’ Committee Report No. 39 released Tuesday recommended amendments to the CAAP Charter and Passengers’ Bill of Rights, creation of the Philippine Transportation Safety Board, and passage of the Philippine Airports Authority Act.

“To complement these, sufficient engineering guidelines and training of accredited engineers should be rolled out. Another CNS/ATM (Communications, Navigation and Surveillance Systems for Air Traffic Management) system in an independent location should also be supported,” committee chair Senator Grace Poe said in a statement.

Poe said the Department of Transportation must fast-track its feasibility studies on the proposed privatization of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and assist CAAP in immediately complying with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommendations.

One significant ICAO observation, Poe said, is the country’s lack of a Master Contingency Plan that should have established emergency procedures, like during an air traffic glitch.

“The Philippines already has a history of non-compliance to ICAO and I wish to reiterate that there are consequences. A downgrade from Category 1 to Category 2 means Philippine-registered aircraft and personnel would have to undergo heightened inspections abroad which might cause flight delays. Maaari rin mag-impose ang ibang bansa ng restrictions sa ating mga (Other countries may also impose restrictions in our) commercial flights. This will translate to huge economic losses for the country,” she warned.

ICAO is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) with 193 member-states, including the Philippines, that sets standards and regulations necessary for aviation safety, security, efficiency and environmental protection.

It also assesses all member states of the UN on their capability and capacity to implement an effective safety oversight of aviation operations.

Poe said her committee believes that CAAP personnel on the ground did their best with the equipment, guidelines, and training given to them.

She noted that the Jan. 1 systems failure was a confluence of factors and errors and that there is much work needed for a better air traffic system.

“It is my earnest hope that through our investigative work, Congress will be able to assist CAAP in providing a system where travel in our airspace is no longer shut down by causes which could have been avoided,” Poe said.

Apart from the series of inquiries, Poe, with Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, Majority Leader Joel Villanueva and Senators JV Ejercito, Raffy Tulfo, and Risa Hontiveros inspected CAAP’s air traffic management center in Pasay City last month.

In a statement, CAAP assured that upgrades and projects on several airports were already completed as part of its efforts in ensuring the safety and convenience of passengers. (PNA)