MANILA – Airport operations at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) was suspended for seven hours Saturday as thick smog -- a combination of smoke and fog -- blanketed the Philippine capital, officials said.

Air traffic was suspended between 6 a.m. and 1 p.m. since visibility has dropped to one kilometer, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).

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“It is normal to have haze at this time of the year but it was so thick the visibility dropped to one kilometer. Normally we allow airplanes to land with a three- or four-kilometer visibility,” CAAP technical assistant Lito Casaul said in a radio interview.

While 22 flights bound for Manila were diverted to the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark, Pampanga, 70 domestic and international flights of NAIA terminal 1, 2, and 3 were affected, according to an advisory of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) Saturday.

Before air traffic went back to normal by 1 p.m., 15 flights from Pampanga have returned to the capital due to improved visibility of five kilometers before noon time.

Normal operations

Early Saturday, the poor visibility prompted at least 22 flights — four international and 18 domestic — to initially divert to Pampanga while two flights from Philippine Airlines (PAL) landed in Cebu and another one in Iloilo.

Candice Iyog, vice president for distribution and marketing of Cebu Pacific Airlines, said in a text message that four of the diverted flights were their fleet.

“We have four flights affected, two are from Caticlan, one from Catarman and one from Naga. These are small planes, ATR 72 model. Our bigger planes like Airbus 319 and 320 have landed safely in Manila because these are planes that can withstand Saturday’s poor visibility,” Iyog said.

Apart from the four Cebu Pacific flights, other diverted flights were: 11 flights of PAL; a flight of Royal Brunei Airlines; two flights of the Air Philippines; four flights of Zest Airlines; one flight each from KNL Airlines and Sea Air; two flights of China Air; and one flight of Air Micronesia.

Previous incidents

On June 19, around 65 flights, mostly from local carriers, were cancelled after the main airport’s Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Radio Range (VOR) and Instrument Landing System (ILS) equipment broke down due to wear and tear and lack of maintenance.

Three days later, six flights were diverted to Clark airport in Pampanga and another one in Mactan International Airport and on June 28, 18 domestic and eight international flights were diverted to airports in Clark, Mactan, and Iloilo supposedly due to bad weather.

The VOR, which is due for replacement this year, is essential in guiding pilots during landing in times of low visibility and bad weather.

The MIAA said the cost of the new VOR will be around P120 million, including taxes and importation fees.

But even before the purchase of the new VOR, the CAAP has already allowed the use of Required Area Navigation System (RNAV) or the Ground Positioning System (GPS) for all airlines even during bad weather conditions. (Virgil Lopez/PNA/Sunnex)