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Is it safe to travel by air?

“The Philippines has an antiquated aviation system. US aviation also has an aging technology for commercial flying.”

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This question is suddenly urgent and relevant, given three instances of aviation system failures in three major countries—the Philippines, the United States, and Canada—in the past 11 days.

The Philippines’ aviation system totally failed on Jan. 1, 2023 after Manila’s air traffic control system conked out for seven hours during one of the busiest travel days of the year.

More than 300 flights and 56,000 passengers were affected by the Manila shutdown that was blamed on, choose your answer: 1) a malfunctioning circuit breaker, 2) malfunctioning uninterruptible power supply backup mini-generators; 3) plain negligence; and 4) outdated equipment, technology, and system.

Until now, nobody knows exactly what happened that day when the Philippines’ entire airport system failed for seven hours.

Eleven days later, on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, US Eastern Time, from 7:20 a.m. to 9:07 a.m., America’s NOTAM system failed, causing the delay in 7,800 flights and the cancellation of 1,200 flights. The failure was blamed on outage.

NOTAM, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Notice to Air Missions system, provides safety information to pilots.

A notice might inform pilots, for example, about operational issues that have cropped up at a specific airport, such as a runway closure, or activity in airspace that aviators should be aware of.

Also on Wednesday, Canada’s air traffic system suffered an outage similar to the US incident, but only for three hours, from 10:20 am to 13:15 pm Eastern Time, according to Nav Canada.

Unlike the system failure in the USA, the Canadian outage did not disrupt airline schedules.

According to the New York Times, an FAA backup redundant system kicked in Tuesday night, government officials said, but the data was corrupted and officials didn’t consider it reliable.

The Wall Street Journal quoted the FAA, saying late on Wednesday its preliminary investigation had traced the outage to a damaged database file.

The breakdown prompted airlines to delay flights for hours Wednesday, and contributed to more than 1,000 cancellations.

It also marked another large-scale disruption for the US air travel industry, following crew scheduling system problems at Southwest Airlines Co. over the holidays.

The Journal said “the episode highlighted the fragility of the nation’s air-transportation system and reliance on aging technology. A government official said Wednesday’s ground stop appeared to be the first such flight-ban nationwide since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“The disruption came as airlines and regulators have butted heads in recent months over who is to blame for flight disruptions and what can be done to prevent them.”

Explained The New York Times: “The disruption was the latest example of serious problems in the aviation system and at the FAA, the agency responsible for safely managing all commercial air traffic that critics say has long been overworked and underfunded.”

“The pause on flights across the country highlighted what aviation experts say are glaring weaknesses at the agency, long considered the world’s premier aviation regulator.

“The FAA has struggled to quickly update systems and processes, many of which were put in place decades ago, to keep up with technological advancements and a sharp increase in the number of flights and passengers.

“Problems with the system used to notify pilots of hazards in the air and ground began on Tuesday night, forcing officials to reboot the system early Wednesday morning.

“To fix the problem, the FAA ordered airlines to delay all departing flights just before 7:30 a.m. That pause was lifted at about 9 a.m., but the disruption was far from over as airlines struggled to get back to normal throughout the day.

“Delays cascaded throughout the system and, by the afternoon, about 9,000 flights had been delayed and 1,300 had been canceled.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has initially ruled out a cyberattack. He said his priority was to make sure the air-traffic system was backed up and running, and then would determine the root cause to prevent a recurrence.

“There is no direct indication of any kind of external or nefarious activity, but we are not yet prepared to rule that out,” Buttigieg told MSNBC.

“While this issue was being worked out on the systems side, there was this ground stop of about an hour and a half nationwide to make absolutely sure, out of an abundance of caution, that no aircraft could take off without the necessary safety information,” Buttigieg said.

The Philippines has an antiquated aviation system. US aviation also has an aging technology for commercial flying.

Where do passengers place themselves?

The typical Pinoy repartee: Bahala na.

Bahala comes from the old Tagalog word Bathala, which means the Lord, or God.

Conclusion: The Philippines and US aviation systems are run by BNG—bahala na gangs.

Happily, God is often more reliable than America’s NOTAM or Manila’s UPS.


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