Haze spreads across Philippines, disrupts flights

Thick haze engulfs the city of Davao, on the southern island of Mindanao, on Oct 23, 2015.
Thick haze engulfs the city of Davao, on the southern island of Mindanao, on Oct 23, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - Haze from thousands of raging wildfires in Indonesia has been disrupting flights across the Philippines, forcing carriers to cancel flights and airports to ground small aircraft.

In separate advisories, Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific said they have not been flying to Cotabato city in the southern island of Mindanao since Oct 17.

This week, Cebu Pacific also cancelled two flights to General Santos city, also in Mindanao, on Thursday (Oct 22). On Friday, both airlines cancelled flights to a third city, Dumaguete, in central Philippines.

Cotabato, General Santos and Dumaguete are gateways to central and southern regions in the Philippines that are home to at least 10 million.

PAL spokesman Maria Cielo Villanua told The Straits Times flights were being cancelled "on a day-to-day basis".

In an e-mail, Cebu Pacific said: "Haze from forest fires in Indonesia continues to affect flying conditions and visibility within the vicinity of some southern Philippine airports."

At least eight haze-affected airports, meanwhile, have grounded planes without instruments that will allow pilots to land and takeoff in low to near-zero visibility.

These include Clark airport, in the main island of Luzon, just two hours north of the capital Manila.

The others are in Cotabato, Davao, Laguindingan, Tambler, and Zamboanga in Mindanao, and Mactan and Busuanga in central Philippines.

"Visibility has been down to 1.2km at times. You need at least 3km to land safely," Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines deputy director-general Rodante Joya told The Straits Times.

He said dozens of flights are being delayed because of haze, disrupting operations at the main Manila airports.

Thick layers of greyish cloud consistent with haze has been blanketing large parts of Mindanao and central Philippines this month.

The cities affected so far are Davao, General Santos, Cotabato, and Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao, and Cebu and Dumaguete in central Philippines.

Weather officials said monsoon winds blowing north-east, as well as wind patterns created by typhoon Koppu, which recently ploughed across the main Luzon island, could be causing smoke and dust from nearly thousands of forest fires in Indonesia's Kalimantan region over 1,000km away to drift towards the Philippines.

The haze has apparently reached parts of Luzon, as well, disrupting operations in Clark, a major hub used by travellers from Singapore.

"This is already having a big effect on business and travel. These are major destinations that are being affected," said Mr Joya.

rdancel@sph.com.sg