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What? Another study on NAIA congestion?

I don’t know if DOTC is just trying to dribble the ball or if someone there is making oodles of money on studies. But DOTC last week published a notice asking for bids for a consultancy contract worth P91.4 million to study how they can ease the congestion in all the four terminals of NAIA.

In justifying the conduct of this new study, DOTC claims it wants to increase the airside capacity of NAIA because it has become “highly congested”, leading to flight delays and cancellations. Hooray… they noticed!

Echoing what we have been saying in this column for the past three years, DOTC in its invitation to bid, said that with the “fast-paced increase in movements annually and the ongoing improvement of its facilities, there is an immediate need for an optimization program to ease congestion at NAIA and to improve its services.

“The project involves determining how to improve the airside operations of NAIA. The consultants will be tasked to set clear and achievable targets to improve the existing operations, taking into account the future plans for NAIA and other relevant airports. Furthermore, the consultants will assist in the implementation of their recommendation.”

If you take that DOTC notice at face value, you would believe their claim that the multi-million-peso project aims to increase runway movements, improve slots schedules, add infrastructure and upgrade airport technology. I am not so sure about the motives here but I suspect it is just a scheme to justify their existence in the face of their lack of inclination at DOTC to do anything tangible.

I checked with local experts and consultants familiar with DOTC operations through the years and I am sorry to say that my suspicions are not entirely baseless. Here is what one expert said in reaction to the DOTC press release when I sought his opinion.

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“This is another confirmation of how bad (or hopeless) the situation at DOTC is. The proposed facility improvements were already presented to DOTC in October 2011 – with a realistic timetable. Detailed engineering works, for which this RfP is all about, was supposed to be completed in July2013!

“What DOTC has announced is the start of securing the consultant who will do the works, two years after this should have been done! After which, there will be construction works – which should have started 1st quarter of 2014 (at this point in time). Part of the construction works are two rapid exit taxiways. At this rate, actual construction works would happen 2Q2015 and be completed in 2017.

“There is another worrisome element. MIAA conducted a similar tender for consultants last year (mid-2013). They disqualified the most competent firm, and selected TCGI. Question: is DOTC repeating or duplicating what MIAA has done? Or has it nullified the choice of MIAA?

“Without defending the choice of MIAA, legally it should be the one to conduct the bidding per RA9184. DOTC has usurped this power of MIAA, like it did on LRTA. Two projects of LRTA that DOTC tendered and awarded in 2013. Similar fate may happen on these urgent improvements at NAIA.

“Lastly, I am bothered by the scope of consulting works ‘determining how to improve the airside operations of NAIA’. Hopefully, this was just a PR spin.

“The specifics on how to improve were already contained in the JICA report in October 2011. What is now required is the detailed design preparatory to construction – which should have but did not happen in 4Quarter 2011.

“The challenging part for the consulting engineer is to ensure that airport operations are not disrupted during construction. That is very tricky. Very simple if there are no aircraft landings and take-offs. Cabling wires could be cut and shut down the airport. Hence, there is the need for experienced engineers to supervise actual construction. This should be stipulated in the tender documents for construction.

“All these also imply that construction works will be stretched out - with suspensions part of the day to avoid flight disruptions.”

I asked a second local expert whose area is precisely on airport design and operations. Here is his reply:

“Boo… I can confirm all that (expert A) is saying. All these were in the pipeline since Ping de Jesus time. In fact in my research on the same subject I found similar studies done by JICA and, AECOM in the past. One in 1994, 1997, 2004 and the last 2011.

“All studies have the same conclusion and very similar repeated recommendations. This made me tease JICA consultants that they are making it a career to do repeated studies on NAIA and these are almost cut and paste studies. Cheers.”

So what is going on here? Even a ranking administration official I asked about this made the comment that “analysis/paralysis is alive and well.”

It is the same story on night landing facilities for local airports. Then DOTC Sec Mar Roxas promised they would move on this fast as a means to relieve congestion at NAIA. The domestic airlines are crowding take offs and landings during the daylight hours and worsening the NAIA congestion. If most of the provincial airports had night landing facilities, they can plan their flights over a longer daily time frame.

Instead, what Mar did was to order the domestic airlines to cut their flights but forgot his promise to have night landing facilities in the other domestic airports. The poor local airlines just bought a lot of brand new planes. Now they can’t maximize their use for the domestic market because of this DOTC failure.

Mar was talking of 14 airports due for night-rating but the number decreased to just five in the last two years: Cotabato, Dipolog, Ozamiz, Roxas and Tuguegarao. DOTC also announced that they will install night lights at the Laguindingan airport in Cagayan de Oro, but after one year nothing is happening.

CAAP should prioritize Tacloban airport as facilities were destroyed during Yolanda. Installing night landing equipment in Tacloban would greatly support rebuilding efforts.

In 2011, then DOTC Secretary Roxas announced the construction of rapid exit taxi ways at NAIA to decongest the airport. He said construction would start in February 2012. We haven’t heard anything on the status or progress of construction.

Again, I asked experts what they knew of the promised projects and here is what I got:

“The National Competitiveness Council (NCC) infra working group chaired by Meneleo Carlos advocated as early as 2008 to allow the airlines to invest in lighting and installing navigation equipment in some of our airports outside of Manila, Davao and Cebu to make them night-rated.

“It is in the interest of these airlines to make these airports able to make their planes take-off and land at night. This will also help tremendously in easing the congestion at NAIA (expected to flatten a bit the bell curve of flight schedules which are highly concentrated during day time). As a recovery mechanism, the investment can be deducted from the landing fees.

“Government, DOTC, insists on doing it but fails to do so.”

Here is another response I got:

“There were 14 airports targeted in 2011 to be ‘night rated’ but further evaluation determined that some could not be rated due to airport or runway limitation that will not allow safe night operations.

“Putting landing lights is just one part of the night rating requirements. Terrain around the maneuvering area of the aircraft may prevent visual type night landing as nearby high terrain may not be visible while doing a landing pattern.

“A VOR in the airport will enable an approach pattern to be calibrated even if the final landing sequence will be a non-precision visual approach. Ideally a VOR/ILS landing facility is what is required for a night all weather landing. These types of facilities will, however, cost millions and would deter CAAP from pursuing such installation.”

Still another source from the aviation industry pointed out proper slotting at NAIA should be implemented. While we could have night landing facilities in regional airports, inadequate slots in Manila hampers aviation industry growth.

So I asked, what can be expected?

The response: “Sorry Boo. None. They have not given up on the idea. Just gave up starting work on it.”

I realize the technical requirements for night rating airports must be well studied. But there must be some movement by now in at least the most important of these airports. The new airport in Cagayan de Oro is a case in point… supposed to be a modern airport for which we spent a bundle but very incomplete. It operates on visual flight rules.

 Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

                                

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