AviationThe airspace will be shut to replace the failed uninterruptible power supply unit that powers its air traffic management system.

Philippine airspace to shut for two hours on 17 May

The first collapse of the UPS on New Year's Day resulted in hundreds of cancelled, delayed, or diverted flights and over 65,000 affected passengers.
The first collapse of the UPS on New Year's Day resulted in hundreds of cancelled, delayed, or diverted flights and over 65,000 affected passengers. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/yooranpark

Philippine airspace will be closed for two hours on Wednesday, 17 May, while the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) replaces its uninterruptible power supply (UPS) unit, after it failed dramatically on 1 January this year and again on 1 May.

According to a local radio interview with CAAP spokesman Eric Apolonio, the planned shutdown of Philippine airspace will now last from 2am to 4am on 17 May, cut from the six-hour closure that was originally mooted.

The UPS system powers the country's air traffic management system and its shutdown will affect international and domestic flights at Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), Clark International Airport (CRK), and Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA), as well as several flights at 42 other CAAP commercially operated airports.

The first collapse of the air-traffic management system occurred on New Year's Day, one of the busiest holiday travel dates in the calendar. Hundreds of flights had to be cancelled, delayed or diverted, estimates suggest over 65,000 passengers were affected.

The power cut, known colloquially as a "brownout" resulted in the sudden loss of communication, radio, radar and internet and was blamed by CAAP director general Manuel Tamayo on a "faulty signal coming from a damaged circuit breaker".

This was followed by a more localised power outage at NAIA Terminal 3 on another major holiday May 1, Labour Day from 1:05am to 8:46am, which affected around 50 flights and 9,000 passengers. The CAAP initiated some emergency repair work on 3 May that also closed the country's airspace temporarily.

For the forthcoming planned shutdown, a number of airlines had already announced passenger travel advisories rescheduling some of their flights based on the previous six-hour window. AirAsia Philippines, for example, had discussed proposed rescheduling of 21 flights on 16 May and retiming of 13 flights and the cancellation of 6 flights on 17 May with CAAP. An airline statement issued on 4 May said: "AirAsia has made adequate preparations to notify guests in advance via SMS and registered email of the flight schedule changes. It also prepared a massive information dissemination campaign through its quad media partners and social media pages."

The incidents have provoked angry responses from passengers and lawmakers, who held a special Senate panel in January to quiz Tamayo on the failure. The hearing heard that the software for the country's communications, navigation, and surveillance/air traffic management (CNS/ATM) had not been upgraded for two years despite the advice of the outside contractors who installed the system, and government funds being available to pay them.

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