Just like its infamous traffic gridlock, Manila’s airport woes have defied solution for the longest time. But if our officials are to be believed, there is a glimmer of hope, at least on the airport scene. (Forget the monstrous traffic jams on EDSA, they’re beyond salvation.)
The Aquino administration is hell-bent on finding a long-term solution to Manila’s airport woes after numerous rehabilitation efforts at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) have failed to uplift the gateway’s reputation as one of the world’s worst airports.
Transportation and Communications Secretary Emilio Abaya said the government is studying several options on whether to rebuild NAIA into a modern facility or move the international airport somewhere else.
In a speech before the Makati Business Club last April, Abaya said his department has submitted three proposals on the airport system to President Aquino and the Cabinet.
The first option, Abaya said, involves a single airport system. Under this proposal, the government will end operations at NAIA and sell the property, and develop the Clark International Airport in Pampanga.
The second option is the twin airport system, where the government will develop Clark while maximizing operations at NAIA through 2025. At the same time, the government will look at an alternative site for a new airport, preferably 25 kilometers or 30 minutes away from the NAIA.
The third option is also a twin system, where the government will develop both Clark and NAIA, while considering an alternative airport.
“Previously, the direction was to move all NAIA’s current operations to Clark International Airport within the next five to seven years. What is clear now is that we need Clark to absorb some of the traffic in NAIA. Even if initially, it seems more cost-efficient to have a single main gateway, there are dual airport systems existing around the world that actually perform well commercially,” Abaya said.
While the Palace has yet to decide, Abaya said he could sense ample support in the Cabinet for the second option, wherein NAIA and Clark would be jointly developed while looking for a new site for an airport. Possible sites for the new airport include reclamation of Laguna de Bay or Manila Bay as well as the Sangley airport in Cavite.
The DOTC is still looking to increase the capacity of NAIA, but Abaya noted there is no available land to extend its runway or build a new terminal.
Since the planned move to Clark is not immediate, the government is spending P150 million to fix NAIA-1. Abaya said the ongoing improvement work at Terminal will be finished within the year, while the structural retrofit of Terminal 1 will continue through 2014.
Meanwhile, the expansion of Clark International Airport’s passenger terminal is expected to be completed by September, in time for the launch of new flights by a Middle East-based carrier, according to Victor Jose Luciano, president and chief executive officer at Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC).
“The existing terminal can only accommodate two million passengers annually, while the new passenger terminal expansion will further boost its capacity to 4 to 5 million passengers annually,” Luciano said in a statement.
CIAC expects passenger volume at the airport to reach two million this year, after registering 408,895 passengers in the first quarter alone.
The option of operating both Clark and NAIA involves a strategy that sends international air traffic to both airports, as well as feeder flights from or to domestic routes for passengers arriving from or departing for destinations abroad.
The most crucial ingredient in pursuing this dual airport plan, however, is a train system that connects them.
A “bullet train” project connecting Clark and Manila – covering a distance of 113 kilometers – has a long way to go in terms of project approval and bidding. It is being mulled as an alternative to the Northrail project that was mired in legal, financial and technical issues between the Philippines and China, the rail project’s funder.
The conglomerate Metro Pacific Investment Corp. (MPIC), led by Manny Pangilinan, is still keen on undertaking the government’s bullet train project between Manila and Clark, according to a company spokesperson.
However, the project seems a long shot since it remains in the early stages of project evaluation and has a long way to go before it reaches the bidding phase. Only when the government has decided on its airport will the rail project proceed.