Air traffic system 100% running, but with no backup: Philippine Aviation Authority

On New Year’s Day, both the main and backup power supplies malfunctioned, which affected about 350 flights.

Gabriel Pabico Lalu

Gabriel Pabico Lalu

Philippine Daily Inquirer


Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).(Photo from the Manila International Airport Authority)

January 19, 2023

MANILA — The country’s air traffic management system is again running at full functionality, but it has no backup in case the system breaks down again as it did on New Year’s Day.

Arnold Balucating, the chief engineer of the Air Traffic Service of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), made that statement on Wednesday at the hearing of the House Committee on Transportation.

Antipolo Rep. Romeo Acop had asked him if the system was already running.

“Yes, Your Honor, it is operational. The functionality, Your Honor, is 100 percent. But there is no backup on the VSAT — backup spare parts,” Balucating said.

VSAT stands for “very small aperture terminal,” a two-way satellite ground station with a satellite dish used for communication between air traffic managers and pilots. It is part of the Communications, Navigation, and Surveillance Systems for Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM).

Acop asked why the backup system had not been completed — which would leave the CNS/ATM vulnerable.

“We still have to buy parts so we could restore the redundant system… The redundant system of the VSAT is still not operational, although the CICC already gave a part that we have installed. But we need timing,” Balacuting said in Filipino,

CICC stands for the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center, which is investigating the New Year’s Day breakdown that affected around 350 flights with a total volume of 66,000 travelers who failed to fly in or out of the Ninoy Aquino International Airpot.

“That’s our shortcoming. We are reactive. But there should be spare parts available for this critical system, right?” Acop said.

Balucating and the other CAAP officials present agreed.

Earlier in the hearing, Acop was able to confirm that CAAP only used parts from the backup VSAT — which he believed was broken during the Jan. 1 breakdown— to fix the VSAT damaged by the power surge, or overvoltage.

On New Year’s Day, both the main and backup power supplies malfunctioned. CAAP tried to override the system by connecting it to an automatic voltage regulator (AVR).

But instead of getting the recommended 220 volts, the system operated on 380 volts — forcing a shutdown.

The surge damaged some key components, like the VSAT. Getting the VSAT replacement set up is what took CAAP so long to restore the system.

The problem prompted lawmakers to question CAAP whether it would need a backup system or an upgrade. CAAP recommended the procurement of necessary upgrades to the CNS/ATM.

CAAP Director General Manuel Tamayo said that he had contacted his counterpart in Singapore to learn how the system could be maintained.

“For the information of everybody, their system is older. They have a 2010 [system], if I’m not mistaken, and need to replace it already. Their only advantage is that they have two backups — not just one. Well, obviously, they are a rich nation. So they can afford to have two backups,” Tamayo said, speaking in a mix of English and Filipino.

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