airports in the Philippines

Power outage hits NAIA Terminal 3 again amid airport privatization talks

Lance Spencer Yu

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Power outage hits NAIA Terminal 3 again amid airport privatization talks

STRANDED. Hundreds of passengers crowd the NAIA Terminal 1 in Pasay City following the suspension of flights due to technical issues on January 1, 2023.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

(1ST UPDATE) This now marks the third major power disruption to the airport this year after the New Year’s Day air traffic fiasco and Labor Day power outage

MANILA, Philippines – Another power outage has struck the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3, barely a month since it last happened. This comes days after the government advanced talks regarding the privatization of the operation of the airport, the Philippines’ main international gateway.

“It’s unfortunate po that today, again, we would like to apologize because of the interruption. Nagkaroon po tayo ng brief 37-minute interruption dito sa (We had a brief 37-minute interruption here in) T3 that caused some delays for our flights,” MIAA Officer-in-Charge Bryan Co said in a press briefing on Friday, June 9.

The power outage hit NAIA Terminal 3 at 12:52 pm. Commercial power from Meralco was restored by 1:29 pm.

This time, it was a “procedural lapse” that caused the power outage. This morning, MIAA shut down some substations to conduct its electrical audit, one of the solutions identified following the  Labor Day outage.

But as they were re-energizing the substations at around 12:50 pm, it turned out that a “testing cable” was left in the Roadway 2 Substation, which caused a shortage and led to the Terminal 3’s power to trip.

As a result, five domestic flights and two international flights experienced delays, with possible “consequential delays” to other fights. No flights were canceled. The power outage also caused a build-up of passengers in the immigration area because it took about 15 to 20 minutes for the immigration computer system to come back online.

This now marks the third major power disruption to the airport this year, which includes the New Year’s Day air traffic fiasco and Labor Day power outage. NAIA Terminal 3, in particular, has a history of being struck by power outages, such as in 2016 and again in September 2022.

Privatization talks

The latest outage happened exactly a week after the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and MIAA announced that it had prepared a joint proposal for NAIA’s rehabilitation. This would take the shape of a solicited Private-Public Partnership (PPP) project, paving the way for private companies eager to bid.

And just two days ago, a DOTr official said that the privatization of the country’s main gateway could happen as early as the first quarter of next year.

This wasn’t the first time that a major outage hit the airport following discussions on privatization. On May 1, Labor Day, NAIA Terminal 3 was also paralyzed by an hours-long power outage, causing 40 flights to be canceled. That too came just as the government received an unsolicited proposal for a multibillion rehabilitation project to modernize NAIA.

However, Co dismissed allegations that the power interruptions happening at the airport were related to these discussions.

“As I mentioned, we identified already the root cause, and it’s part of a procedural issue that should have been followed in terms of energizing or de-energizing a substation,” Co said. “At least, we can rule out those other angles na nagsasabi na (that say) it’s possible in relation to privatization.”

“Our stance as far as MIAA is concerned, whether privatization is there or not, MIAA has the mandate to improve, operate, and of course ensure na reliable po ang ating NAIA airport (that our airport is reliable),” he added.

What happened during the last outage?

Last time this happened, a fault current had triggered the main circuit breaker of NAIA Terminal 3 – but exactly where in the electrical system this came from remains a mystery.

In the meantime, MIAA relied on its generators to provide power, but there was another problem: the generator set could only support 30% of NAIA Terminal 3’s load. This was only enough for “mission critical areas,” which included: 

  • Check-in systems
  • Immigration system
  • Final security x-ray
  • Aerobridges
  • Baggage carousel
  • Elevators, escalators, walkalators
  • Air-conditioning systems for select areas
  • Lights

Because of this lack of genset power, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista said that several areas in the terminal had no air-conditioning on May 1. 

Co said that the MIAA has since started the procurement of additional gensets with a capacity of 6 megawatts, with the bid opening scheduled for next week. –

[Vantage Point] Are airport glitches avoidable?

[Vantage Point] Are airport glitches avoidable?

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Lance Spencer Yu

Lance Spencer Yu is a multimedia reporter who covers the transportation, tourism, infrastructure, finance, agriculture, and corporate sectors, as well as macroeconomic issues.