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Airport mess trigger: Faulty circuit breaker

A defective circuit breaker worth P10,000 caused the New Year’s Day air traffic mess that grounded more than 300 flights that affected about 65,000 passengers and cost airlines more than P100 million, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) told the Senate Thursday.
SORRY FOR THE AIRPORT FIASCO. Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines director-general Manuel Tamayo (right) apologizes for the New Year’s Day air traffic mess that grounded more than 300 flights and affected about 65,000 passengers. Tamayo was joined by Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista during yesterday’s Senate hearing on the airport mess. Lino Santos 

At a hearing before the Senate public services committee, CAAP Director General Manuel Antonio Tamayo said the air traffic control system went down after a circuit breaker failed due to over-voltage. He said this was detected by two uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems that automatically shut down to avoid major damages to the system.

Tamayo said this was contrary to initial reports that there were problems with the UPS.

At the same time, he told the panel headed by Senator Grace Poe that it was “farfetched and unlikely” that the failure of the Communications, Navigation, and Surveillance Systems for the Air Traffic Management System (ATMS) was caused by a cyberattack.

Earlier, House Senior Deputy Minority Leader Paul Daza said aviation authorities had told the House hearing the same thing.

“The problem that caused the glitch, January 1st, at this point they’re saying, it was a simple circuit breaker,” he told ANC’s Headstart.

He said he was shocked that a P10,000 circuit breaker could cause hundreds of millions of losses and so much human misery. “That’s unquantifiable,” he said.

During the House panel briefing, lawmakers were told that the manufacturer’s warranty of the circuit breaker expired two years ago, Daza said. But transportation officials said it should last 20 years, he said.

“There was a voltage surge. The system shut down and then the UPS functioned, but the circuit breaker did not allow the power to go to the system,” Daza said.

“When they were investigating, they opened the circuit breaker and saw that the circuit breaker itself was, in their words, defective,” he added.

At the Senate hearing, Tamayo took responsibility for the New Year’s Day fiasco and apologized to all the passengers who were inconvenienced by the grounded flights.

In the same hearing, former Transportation secretary Art Tugade repudiated media reports that P13 billion of funds supposedly for CNS-ATM were diverted to other projects at the airport.

“Nothing was diverted because the CNS/ATM is what we call a loan-funded project,” he said.

He said loans from other countries undergo tedious processing before being released to contractors, not the executive agency.

“There’s a process when the payment will be release. Were the funds released to the DOTr? No, the funds were released to contractors,” he said.

But Poe questioned the credibility of the DOTr and CAAP probe of the technical glitch since their people were the ones involved in this case.

“You are investigating yourselves, how’s that?” Poe asked in Filipino.

Also present in the hearing were Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista and other officials.

Senator Jinggoy Estrada also confronted the CAAP over the late update of the incident, which was submitted to the Senate only on Jan. 9.

Senator Risa Hontiveros said the CAAP should not lead the investigation into its own failure.

“What if the negligence is from CAAP’s end? There’s a clear conflict of interest if they are investigating themselves… Perhaps we at the Senate should consider a different aviation body that could join the investigation,” she said.

“CAAP cannot even get its facts straight. It’s been one and a half weeks since the incident. The problems they had should be clear to them,” she said.

Hontiveros said a third party should double check both the equipment log and the manual log of the system error.

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