Consequences of Duterte’s planned daily flights at Naia
THE BusinessMirror sought the ideas of aviation experts on what to expect at the already-congested Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia), where delayed flights are the norm, once incoming President Rodrigo R. Duterte starts his daily commute by commercial flight from Davao City to Manila and back. Based on what they said, air travelers must suffer the consequences of delays, among others, when all airport activities are temporarily suspended every time he flies.
INCOMING President Rodrigo R. Duterte said he would hop on commercial flights between Davao and Manila as a way to demonstrate his propoor agenda.
Duterte’s plan to scrimp on people’s money is in line with his directive that no Cabinet member should use expensive sport-utility vehicles and they should book on economy class when they travel.
Security experts, however, said Duterte’s plan to commute daily from Davao City to Manila and back is risky.
The BusinessMirror asked experts to comment on Duterte’s plan of taking daily flights. The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap) said normally, the presence of the Chief Executive in an airplane would automatically alert air- traffic controllers to declare a quasi- emergency. This is a procedure where airport operations go into “freeze mode” for a while, for security reasons.
“The moment the President steps into the airplane and taxi out in preparation for takeoff, all airport activities are temporarily suspended,” Caap Deputy Director General Rodante S. Joya. “Other airplanes taking off and landing are told to stay at the tarmac until the President’s airplane has gone 20 miles away.”
On the other hand, if the President is arriving, all aircraft operations are also suspended while the Chief Executive’s airplane is 20 miles away until he steps out of the aircraft,” Joya added.
He said this is true if the President is riding an officially designated aircraft, which is recognizable to air controllers, because it carries a code. Joya, however, said he does not know what protocol will apply should Duterte use commercial airlines.
President Aquino’s airplane is known to air controllers as “Kalayaan One”, and “Air Force One” when he goes abroad, in the same manner that American President Barack Obama’s flights are also called “Air Force One.”
“The idea of designating specific military aircraft to transport the President arose in 1943, when officials of the United States Army Air Forces, the predecessor to the US Air Force, became concerned with relying on commercial airlines to transport the president,” Wikipedia said.
“If such is the case, there would be a f lurry of quasi- emergencies being declared, not only at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport ( Naia) but also at Davao Airport,” Naia ramp controller Alger Ramo said.
A veteran air- traffic controller and pilot, Ramo said handling presidential flights are based on established protocol.
“The life of a president is always at risk and these protocols are made so that everyone concerned, or anybody with any link to presidential flights knew in advance what they are supposed to do,” he said.
He cited one incident of quasiemergency occurred during President Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo’s term. She was aboard a small private jet going to Davao to attend a wedding and the air controllers shut down airport operations until she could take off.
Gulf Air happens to be arriving at about the same time that Arroyo’s plane was taking off. Air controllers told the Middle Eastern carrier to divert to Clark International Airport instead of flying around in circles over Manila for the next 20 minutes, since Clark is only 15 minutes away.
Gul f Air al legedly filed a complaint against the then Air Transportation Office ( ATO) for diverting its incoming f light after it was delayed three hours at Clark. A number of Filipino passengers reportedly complained that the diversion made them miss their connecting f lights to their home provinces.
“These are established protocols,” Joya said of the quasiemergency, adding that normally the Caap would coordinate with the Presidential Security Guard ( PSG), the Manila International Airport Authority ( Miaa), the Aviation Security Group ( ASG), Office for Transport Security (OTS) and all others.
“It takes plenty of planning and coordination to handle a presidential flight, but these are done in advance and we don’t even know if we would still be here at the Caap when President- elect Duterte takes over,” Joya said.
“Birds are not even supposed to fly during quasi- emergencies,” he joked to inject meaning to the protocol. One aviation expert who refused to be identified because he is not allowed to speak on the issue said that, when it comes to security, not all of the President’s directives are followed.
“He might not even know about it, but when President Duterte boards commercial flights, there would probably be several security men and women aboard without him knowing about it.”
The head of the National PoliceAviation Security Group ( Avsegroup), C/Supt. Francisco Balagtas, said that, although the primary role of protecting the President at any airport belongs to the PSG, his group provides additional security to the President.
“We coordinate with the PSG, but of course, once we knew in advance which flight the President is taking, there would be stricter baggage inspection, body- frisking and high visibility of uniformed, armed men around the airport and all the way to the 90- hectare perimeter of the Naia.”
He said normally, the arrival of the President at the Naia would trigger the stationing of more heavily armed guards at various gates, more bomb-sniffing dogs are fielded, closed- circuit television are manned, while helicopters would be flying above.
He added that even firefighters are activated and their vehicles roam the runway for any debris that could be sucked by the engines.
“These and many more compose the security blanket that shelters the Chief Executive whenever he goes,” Balagtas added.
He said the Avsegroup has yet to have a meeting with the PSG and other agencies to discuss how the security precautions would be viewed if Duterte make true his vow to commute.
Balagtas said he is not sure whether the same security precautions that applies to private planes that Duterte would use, would also apply to commercial flights.
Miaa Spokesman David de Castro said: “As it is, there are no concrete plans yet for the President- elect’s commute. The Miaa awaits proper coordination with the team of the incoming President for any special arrangement should daily f lights be the case.”
“Needless to say, the Naia is always ready to accommodate Mr. Duterte as with all previous presidents,” he said.
Philippine Airlines ( PAL) said: “The carriers have a set of proto- cols on presidential flights to any foreign destination, such as selection of pilots, cabin crew and inflight meals.”
“Our cabin crews are trained to provide inflight service that reflects the PAL brand philosophy— heart of the Filipino,” Spokesman Cielo Villaluna said.
“Before each and every f light, a purser or head cabin attendant would remind the team to provide service competence to address the needs of passengers. That is what the incoming President can expect.”
She added that starting June 1, PAL has upgraded one of its Manila- Davao- Manila f lights, from a 199- seater Airbus A321 to a 414- seater Airbus A330.
“The use of big aircraft is in anticipation of increased traffic between Manila and Davao,” she said.
PAL operates eight flights a day between Manila and Davao. The legacy carrier also flies three times a day to Mactan- Cebu International Airport.
Meanwhile, Duterte said at his thanksgiving party that “all mining companies have to stop mining in Mindanao.” The grand party was held at the sprawling grounds of the inland resort Davao Crocodile Park at Maa district in Davao City.
“Mining people must shape up... Tingnan ninyo ang Surigao, puro butas na. You have to stop spoiling the land, you’re destroying Mindanao,” he said in his talk during his “One Love, One Nation” thanksgiving party attended by more than 300,000 supporters.
He said the destruction of Mindanao and dislocation of its people, including the Moro people, “has to change.”
For Duterte, Mindanao’s mineral resources must first be enjoyed by people from Mindanao, like the “coops of Filipinos digging out there, and I’ll just give instructions how not to spoil the land, una muna ang taga Mindanao.”
“There’s a big problem of mining companies. They’re destroying our country. You have to force the military and the police to enforce,” he said, referring to the mining laws that are more often enforced in the breach.
The moment the President steps into the airplane and taxi out in preparation for takeoff, all airport activities are temporarily suspended. Other airplanes taking off and landing are told to stay at the tarmac until the President’s airplane has gone 20 miles away.” —Joya