Hundreds of flights to and from Manila have been halted due to an air traffic control failure, leaving passengers stranded at airports.

Tens of thousands of travelers have been stranded at airports in the Philippines after a power outage caused an air traffic control disruption at the country’s busiest hub, Manila.

The failure of communications and radar equipment on Sunday, Jan. 1, forced hundreds of flights to be cancelled, delayed or diverted, affecting some 56,000 passengers at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, according to the airport operator. It was unclear how many overflights were involved.

Transport Secretary Jaime Bautista apologized to people for the stopped flights and blamed the power outage which also affected operations at other airports in the country.

He said the aging existing facility needs to be upgraded immediately and a backup system was also needed.

“This is [an] problem with the air traffic management system,” he told reporters. “If you compare us to Singapore, for example, there is a big difference, they are at least 10 years ahead of us.”

Passengers look at a flight information screen at Terminal 3 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay, Metro Manila on January 1, 2023. - Thousands of travelers were stranded at Philippine airports on January 1 after a "loss of communication" at the country's busiest hub, Manila, hundreds of flights had to be cancelled, delayed or diverted.  (Photo by KEVIN TRISTAN ESPIRITU/AFP)
Passengers look at a flight information screen in Terminal 3 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay, Metro Manila, The Philippines [Kevin Tristan Espiritu/AFP]

The Manila International Airport Authority said in a statement that “the system has been partially restored, allowing limited flight operations” as of 08:00 GMT. According to the operator, eight arrivals and eight departures were allowed by the end of the evening.

“The flight delays and diversions are only precautionary measures to ensure the safety of passengers, crew and aircraft,” said the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines.

The outage hit as many people planned to travel after the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Photos and videos circulating on social media showed long queues at the airport and flight attendants handing out food packages and drinks to stranded passengers.

There were chaotic scenes at check-in counters across the country as thousands of people tried to rebook tickets or find out when their flights would depart.

Others who boarded their planes before the outage was announced waited hours and then had to disembark.

Tycoon Manny Pangilinan, President of Philippine telecommunications conglomerate PLDT Inc, tweeted that he was flying from Tokyo to Manila when the plane was diverted to Japan’s Haneda Airport due to the failure of “radar and navigation facilities”.

“6 hours of useless flying, but inconvenience to travelers and losses to tourism and business are terrible. Only in PH. Sigh,” wrote Pangilinan.

Philippine Airlines and budget carrier Cebu Pacific both said they will offer free rebooking or the option to convert tickets into vouchers for passengers flying on Sundays.

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