irecrackers cackled hellish laughter at their delight in defying the “no fireworks” rule for the New Year’s Eve celebrations. Gunpowder-charged homemade bombs whistled mocking warnings, careening mindlessly towards unpredictable targets — not necessarily the sky — sometimes exploding in the hands of some hapless person launching them. Exuberant fireworks danced their giddy extravaganza, lighting up the evening canopy with the blindingly bright Hope for the new year, 2023.
But in the lethargy of the morning after, still-sleepy eyes wakened to reality. “Chaos erupted on New Year’s Day in the Philippines after a severe power outage temporarily impacted air traffic control at the country’s largest airport, disrupting hundreds of flights and leaving tens of thousands of travelers stranded in the Southeast Asian hub,” CNN News blared out. A total of 282 flights were either delayed, canceled or diverted to other regional airports, while around 56,000 passengers were affected as of 4 p.m. local time on New Year’s Day (cnn.com, Jan. 3). How much more descriptive can this be, of a face-to-face (F2F) with reality, after the revelry of a conceptual worry-free world?
What happened? A Babel of know-it-alls proffering technical explanations or conspiracy theories loudly suggesting graft and corruption in procurement might eventually explain the New Year’s Day disaster at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). But perhaps the most real explanation would be that from the Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), retired Captain Manuel Tamayo, a licensed pilot with more than 42 years of experience in the aviation industry:
“The flight delays and cancellations were caused by both the commercial and backup uninterruptible power supply (UPS) of the Communications, Navigation and Surveillance Systems for Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) malfunctioning. The CNS/ATM allows planes to communicate their position with each other and to the Air Traffic Management System of the country or the Manila flight information region (FIR). Without this, the CAAP would not be able to direct traffic in the Philippine airspace.” (Ibid.)
According to Tamayo, one of the blowers of the main power supply conked out, leading them to switch to the backup UPS. However, it also malfunctioned when they tried to switch to the standby power supply. Technicians tried to override the power supply by placing an automatic voltage regulator instead, but they received another error message stating that instead of 220 volts, 380 volts were being supplied to the system. This forced a shutdown of the CNS/ATM, but some components were already damaged (Ibid.).
It was not the air traffic management system itself that caused the issue, but the failed backup uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and the complicating human error of plugging the incorrect voltage for the replacement UPS were what wrecked the ATM system and what caused the flight delays and cancellations! Rep. Joey Salceda, chair of the House of Representatives Committee on ways and means, immediately challenged the CAAP and the Department of Transportation (DoTr) for accountability on the airport technical disaster, threatening the government administrative agencies that “at least P660 million would be needed to reimburse 66,000 passengers affected — 56,000 on Jan. 1 and 10,000 on Jan. 2 — if their tickets were worth P10,000 each” (cebudailynews.com, Jan. 3). Of course, Salceda’s charge is impractical and unimplementable, perhaps only incendiary to panic and false hopes. Delayed passengers who waited a day (some, overnight) for re-booking or reimbursement vouchers had to be content with meal tickets and/or short-time hotel stay given by the airlines. The nightmare of re-rescheduling flights and re-booking stranded and delayed passengers persists to this day, one week later.
Lesson learned from the airport’s New Year’s Day bog down is to focus on Today, and to concentrate on performing and accomplishing what must be done Now. It is coming face-to-face with Reality, now that the seclusion and isolation from the shackling three-year COVID pandemic has conditionally relaxed. Have less of the introspective musings about the unreliable, conditional Future with its tentative scenarios and often-inapplicable motherhood guiding principles: Act Now. Just do it!
Start with a blank page, from “Square One.” Acts of nature usually force attention back to basics: “Across the Philippines, the 2022 holiday season was meant to be a time for celebration and a relief after two Christmases tarnished by the punishing coronavirus lockdowns. But on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, families faced tragedy on Christmas Day when rains triggered flooding and landslides, killing at least 51 people and displacing thousands,” the authorities said (nytimes.com, Jan. 3). As of Jan. 2, at least 19 people were still missing, and thousands of others were living in emergency shelters on Mindanao.
“Imagine losing your home on Christmas Day,” one flood victim cried. Damage to infrastructure and crops has been estimated at P1.36 billion ($24.4 million), the Disaster Relief Center said in a bulletin. Heavy rains mostly affect Northern Mindanao, an area that is less prepared for such disasters than other regions in the Philippines. This is the second straight year that extreme weather has caused death and destruction over the holidays in the Philippines. In December 2021, Super Typhoon Rai lashed Bohol Province with the same intensity as that of a Category 5 hurricane, killing hundreds of people and forcing millions of others from their homes (Ibid.).
Survival is the basic “Square One” in the honest face-to-face with reality. Ominously, the natural environment ultimately decides this bottom line of survival — look at those storms and floods that vengefully decry climate change wrought by the abuse of Nature by humans. It seems even technical glitches, such as the New Year’s Day airport shut-down, say something about the habitual cumulative stealing of Man from Nature. Airplanes emit around 100 times more CO2 per hour than a shared bus or train ride, and the emissions of global aviation are around 1 billion tons of CO2 per year — more than the total emissions of most countries individually. In a recent study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, scientists calculated that aviation (mostly commercial) contributes around 4% to human-induced global warming and is projected to cause about 0.1° Celsius (0.2° Fahrenheit) of warming by 2050 if aviation continues growing at pre-pandemic rates (news.mongabay.com/2022/04).
But of course, the world cannot now do without air travel. Environmental scientist Milan Klöwer recommends that individuals should consciously try to travel by air less for pleasure, prioritizing necessary flights for business and responsibilities — after all, communications and interaction is not difficult on the internet. Klöwer recommends focused development of alternative fuels for the airline industry. In 2018, there were 4.3 billion passenger journeys recorded. The COVID-19 pandemic halted global travel and reduced aviation by 45% in 2020, but CO2 emissions persist for hundreds of years, so all emissions from all past flights are still at play (Ibid.).
Sins of the past. Steady carbon emissions that last for years are from human activities supposedly made easier and more efficient by the new technologies. But the tradeoffs — global warming and climate change — are expensive. People, plants, and animals living under the ozone hole are harmed by the solar radiation now reaching the Earth’s surface — where it causes health problems, ranging from eye damage to skin cancer (ucsusa.org, July 16, 2008). Don’t people make New Year’s resolutions every year to drop the bad habits of the past, start with a clean slate of to-do’s and vow to one’s self to stick to commitments through hell or high water?
High water, meaning floods and natural calamities from climate change. Nature will tell us, in no uncertain terms, what our reality is and what we have done to ourselves by our greedy taking from our natural resources. “Hell” might be the punishment that COVID has scourged the world with for the past three years, hopefully to be more forgiving in 2023.
Life we have mangled in a world we have abused — that is the reality we face today.
There is time to cleanse the collective soul. We start in 2023. n
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a doctor of Business Administration from
the University of the Philippines.