Aviation authorities: Up to 20 million passengers expected over Christmas season

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 4) - Aviation authorities are stepping up security in airports nationwide, as they expect up to 20 million passengers taking air travel over the Christmas season.

In 2016, the country's 35 airports saw 18,337,772 passengers fly through, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said in a statement Sunday. "The number of air passengers is expected to increase by approximately 10 percent" in 2017, said CAAP Director-General Capt. Jim C. Sydiongco. This means an increase by 1.8 million to 20.1 million.

The CAAP launched its "CAAP Balik Pasko 2017", which will "institute additional measures to ensure safe, reliable, and convenient operations" from December 1 to January 5, 2018 in all Philippine airports under the CAAP's supervision, it said.

Leaves of vital operations personnel have been canceled to make sure airports are properly manned, additional airline personnel have been added, and coordination with country's airlines to ensure prompt check-in are among the CAAP measures in place, it said. Airport employees were reminded to adhere to the "no-gift policy" by refusing gifts or favors from other persons or groups, it added.

This comes as the Congressional Oversight Committee on the CAAP convened Monday to address issues and problems hounding the country's airports. Among these issues are airport congestion.

"Airport congestion will be aggravated by the impending Christmas rush," said Senator Grace Poe in a statement at the opening of the oversight committee's meeting.

Poe, who is also chairman of the senate committee on public services, also inquired on steps to be taken by the  CAAP "to ensure the smooth flow" of passengers from the plane cabin to the exit gate, and what will be done for those are affected by delayed flights.

"We are expecting the CAAP and other concerned resource persons to have clear and concise answers on their projects and programs on these issues," she said.

In 2014, aviation and airline authorities were chastised over a controversy involving  20 canceled and 288 delayed Cebu Pacific flights at the height of the Christmas rush from December 24 to 26, 2014. More than 10,000 passengers were affected, and the popular budget airline was fined P52 million for the fracas. The canceled and delayed flights were attributed by Cebu Pacific to air traffic congestion, bad weather conditions, and work crews that went on leave.

Senator Poe also urged the oversight committee to discuss the status of two major projects to improve communications and runways at airports.

Security officials have said they do not see any impending threats following the government's liberation of Marawi City from the ISIS-inspired Maute Group in October, but have warned of smaller "sleeper" cells in urban areas. They urge Filipinos to be vigilant for any unusual persons or movements in their area.