In a speech on Tuesday, March 7, 2023, committee chairperson Senator Grace Poe said despite the cybersecurity vulnerability of the airport facilities, especially the lack of security cameras and updated computer systems, all data were kept uncompromised following the incident.
“However, a conclusive finding negating the cyberattack potential will depend on the UPS (uninterruptible power supply) data logs sent to Turkey for examination, which the Committee will monitor and report to the Body once the results are out,” Poe said.
The committee launched a probe on the matter, which includes the conduct of public hearings, airport ocular and walk through, technical inspections and consultations with concerned government officials and experts, to identify the cause of the air traffic fiasco on New Year’s Day.
Based on the committee findings, Poe said the country’s main gateway shut down due to several reasons:
*Power outage not by Meralco but of several equipment, including the UPS, malfunctioning prior to and during the incident.
*There had been a loose connection on the neutral wire of the circuit breaker, which resulted in it releasing 380 volts instead of just 220 volts. The overvoltage led to damage of the communications and navigation equipment of the Communications, Navigation and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) system which prolonged the shutdown.
*Defective automatic voltage regulator, which protects the UPS from electricity fluctuations.
‘Lack of standards’
Poe said the malfunctioning of the three said equipment was worsened by several underlying issues such as the lack of engineering standards and guidelines for its maintenance and troubleshooting.
“Nakumpirma din na wala pang system evaluation para sa buong system at wala pa ring compliance ang Caap (Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines) sa energy audit na requirement sa ilalim ng RA (Republic Act) 11825 or the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act,” she said.
(It was also confirmed that there is no evaluation for the entire system and the Caap is still not in compliance with the energy audit requirement under RA11825 or the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act.)
“There is also no proper personnel training and a glaring lack of electrical engineers. Sumitomo, the third-party maintenance provider, also never got the chance to continue providing technical assistance due to a pending dispute with DOTr (Department of Transportation),” she added.
The senator also noted the lack of functioning backup or redundancy, which is why a single fault in the equipment can and did cause a shutdown.
She said there had already been proposals prior to the incident but none of it was implemented so far.
Poe said the Caap is now expediting the construction of another CNS/ATM facility, which will serve as the main facility, while the existing facility will be designated as a backup.
She also reiterated the Caap’s poor compliance with the audit observations of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which contributed to the failure of the system.
The country’s Air Navigation Services category scored only 45.28 percent while the global average is 65 percent.
“One significant ICAO observation is the country’s lack of a Master Contingency Plan that should have established emergency procedures for events like this. Mr. President, as early as 2017, even before the CNS/ATM system was completed, Caap was already well aware of the need for this plan dahil nag-create na ito ng TWG, pero hanggang ngayon ay nananatili isang working draft ang contingency plan natin,” said Poe.
“The Philippines already has a history of non-compliance with 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 ring mag-impose ang ibang bansa ng restrictions sa ating mga commercial flights. This will translate to huge economic losses for the country,” she added.
The committee also noted the redundant functions of Caap as the regulator, operator and investigator of the airport system.
Instead of using its funds for the upgrade of their facilities, Caap was mandated under the Dividend Law to remit it to the government since 2016. It has so far remitted P22.4 billion to the government during the said period.
Poe said Caap also has fiscal autonomy and employee recruitment and retention issues.
Caap has a budget request of P1.34 billion for the upgrading and replacement of a few critical equipment.
The National Economic Development Authority also approved recently the utilization of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) loan balance for the procurement of upgrades, spare parts and a third-party maintenance service provider.
“To improve the technical capacity of Caap, we recommend the urgent replacement and upgrading of critical equipment. To complement this, sufficient engineering guidelines and training of accredited engineers should be rolled out. Another CNS/ATM system in an independent location should also be supported,” said Poe.
“To address other non-technical aspects, hinihiling ko ang suporta ng aking mga kapwa Senador para maipasa ang Philippine Transportation Safety Board at Philippine Airports Authority Act, ang pag-amyenda ng CAAP Charter, at ang pag-pasa ng isang Air Passengers Bill of Rights para naman sa ating mga mananakay,” she added.
(To address other non-technical aspects, I request the support of my fellow senators to pass the Philippine Transportation Safety Board and Philippine Airports Authority Act, the amendment of the CAAP Charter, and the passage of an Air Passengers Bill of Rights for our passengers.)
The committee also urged the DOTr to fast-track the feasibility studies on the proposed NAIA privatization, and assist Caap in immediately complying with the ICAO recommendations. (SunStar Philippines)