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Clearing the air

Having been bitten by the travel bug recently, I’ve had a chance to compare the various air gateways of the country to the world, and of course, to observe, albeit on a limited basis, about how other countries are faring with regards the management of their airports.

There’s been a lot of talk about expanding the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), but the problems that have been cropping up, including space for expansion and interconnectivity of the terminals, seem too difficult to surmount.

So many negative comments have been said of our Terminal 1, that old overcrowded original facility that had at one time been ranked as the most odious airport in the whole world.

After much debate, work finally commenced to try to improve the management of Terminal 1 and introduce some facelifts, including painting the ceilings, installing new carpets, and patching up leaking roofs and defective comfort rooms.

The immigration area has also been subjected to some changes, and the notorious queues have somehow been diminished. The hall where passengers are herded for passport vetting has cheered up a little, and the officers’ cubicles are now more presentable.

The system is still not as sophisticated yet as what other European or American immigration offices have, but what is there now is not exactly as backward as what other developing countries still have. So, that’s something to be happy about.

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The parking areas have been expanded (parking fees, by the way, have been increased), but the main parking facility is still cramped, especially when there are several flights coming in and/or leaving at the same time. In the same breath, ingress and egress to the airport is a big headache during these periods.

Other terminals

Terminal 2, which is run by the Philippine Airlines, is by far still one of the better managed airports in the country. Of course, it is still a small airport facility compared to others in the region, but it’s not shoddy. There are no fancy walkalators, but hey, there are no kilometric walks too to get to your loading bay.

Getting to the Centennial airport, as how Terminal 2 is also called, can be a harrowing experience especially now that construction of the elevated roads that would link the departure and arrival sections of the three major international terminals of NAIA is ongoing. Not a few passengers have missed their flights, I’ve been told.

Terminal 3, which partially opened in 2008, is the “newest” of Manila’s airports, and seems to be finally awakening to serve more of the country’s inbound and outbound air travellers and airlines, but by and large is still not fully utilized, having only become fully operational last year.

The three terminals, which sit adjacent to each other, are not linked together operationally. Serving over half of the country’s passengers who travel by air, there’s a lot to be desired in terms of having one contiguous and seamless operations.

Linked facility

It is high time that the three terminals are linked, not just by elevated connector roads, but as an integrated airport service similar to what many other countries do. It seems so backward for passengers to be physically exiting and entering different terminal buildings, and passing through the immigration desks of each.

Under the current setup, this kind of integrated NAIA operations does not seem to be easy to do, and could become even more complicated if a fourth international terminal, as has been proposed by San Miguel Corp. CEO Ramon Ang, is built.

Our three NAIA terminals are much like the three elevated train systems in Metro Manila: there is no semblance of an overall plan such that each operates independently without much regard for the travelling public’s convenience and needs.

Clark option

There is a fourth international airport, though, that serves Manila and should be given careful thought. This is the Clark International Airport, formerly the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, found within the Clark Freeport Zone situated about 80 kilometers northwest of Manila.

Developing Clark as a fully operational international gateway should be seriously considered especially now that travel through the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx) and the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) is smoother and faster.

Currently, with Terminal 1 and phase 1 of Terminal 2 done, Clark serves as a hub for a number of low-cost carriers, but is still very much underutilized, with only about a million passengers passing through in a year.

From Quezon City, travel to Clark is a painless one and a half hours, much the same amount of time it takes when slugging through traffic on EDSA and the other major roads leading to any of the three NAIA terminals, but without the same stress.

The Clark Freeport Zone, unlike the current area where NAIA is, has room to accommodate an airport that can serve up to 80 million passengers annually when fully expanded. A number of studies had been commissioned in the past, and seem to be grounded on solid logic.

Idle asset

There are plans to develop Clark to become the Philippine’s first aerotropolis with businesses and industries hopefully relocating to the former American airfield complex.

But given the track record of current officials responsible for our transportation needs, these grandiose plans will only look good on paper and will remain exciting prospects trapped in rosy press releases.

As of now, based on my own experience, the existing facilities at Clark airport are sufficient and comfortable enough to handle more flights that could help decongest NAIA.

Instead of spending time crafting press releases about building a new airport in Cavite, why can’t the Department of Tourism and other agencies responsible for providing better air transport facilities push for more utilization of the Clark airport. As of now Clark is an idle asset that can be put to better use, if only responsible officials would act rather than talk. 

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Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

 

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