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NAIA terminals far from world-class

With aviation rules being broken with ease, another government big shot soon could perish in an air accident. There again would be an air crash investigation, with pilot error and poor aircraft maintenance as the causes. Then, as with last August’s fatal crash of Cabinet member Jesse Robredo, the public outcry would subside. No action would be taken  — till the next crash.

All this is because of fixers at the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines. Example:

The other week, I reported that the Swiss personal pilot of a Filipino billionaire was caught doctoring the flight logbook. He committed the offense in September, and CAAP enforcers refused to renew his domestic pilot’s license. Still, the Swiss flew his boss’ jet from Basel via Italy, and landed in Manila without a valid license — a second violation. The CAAP investigated further and discovered a third breach. The Swiss had lied in stating in official filings that he was rated to fly a long-range modern executive jet.

With three strikes, he should have been banned forever from flying to, from, and in the Philippines. Yet the fixers issued him a validation, so that he could fly his boss to Europe from Manila before the Christmas holidays.

Not only that, there’s word that he then piloted back to Manila. And last Dec. 30, he flew a Philippine senator from Balesin Island resort to Manila — on precisely the executive jet he wasn’t rated to fly.

Who was his co-pilot? None other than the CAAP fixer. And that fixer was linked to the faulty issuance of pilot, aircraft, and chartering licenses related to Robredo’s fatal crash. Three other CAAP personnel frequently moonlight flying the billionaire’s jet and smaller aircraft.

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The smallness of the Manila International Airport is an edge over its gigantic counterparts in other lands, Tourism Assistant Sec. Benito Bengzon Jr. brags. For, passengers can get out of it in a jiffy.

Time it, Bengzon gushes. It takes only 25 minutes from touchdown for a passenger to meet well-wishers or hail a cab outside. With the short runway, taxiing to the terminal is only four minutes. Follows a short walk to the computerized Immigration counters, baggage carousels, and Customs clearance. The lines are quick and efficient.

That may be so. But the gateway to the country’s capital still isn’t something its 14.2 million international travelers last year can rate highly. For, through no fault of the tourism office really, the airport’s facilities and policies are shabby. And so:

• Airplanes circle the air 20 to 120 minutes before being cleared to land. Same with departing aircraft. That’s because of long rows of international, domestic, and chartered flights waiting to land or take off. There are only two runways, and they happen to intersect, making only one useable at a time. They get flooded during heavy rains, forcing flight cancellations.

The Department of Transportation and Communications has not thought to make the underused Clark International Airport in Pampanga an extension of Manila’s. It has nothing to do with labels, hopefully: Manila’s is named after Ninoy Aquino, father of President Noynoy. Clark’s is after Diosdado Macapagal, father of Noynoy’s hated predecessor President Gloria Arroyo. The DOTC says it’s more because there is yet no fast-train system between the two airfields.

Yet passengers don’t care about such rail connector. Residents of north Metro Manila, Central Luzon and Ilocos would rather fly out of Clark than plow through traffic in Quezon, Mandaluyong, Makati and Pasay cities to the Manila terminal. All they need, if not own vehicles, are reliable, regular shuttles. Buses that depart 15 or 20 minutes apart on the dot to and from designated highway points would suffice for them.

• Toilets are few and tiny in Manila’s four international and domestic terminals. There are only two urinals and cubicles — often only one when the other is out-of-order. So lines are long when hundreds of passengers disembark per plane, or thousands throng at departure halls.

Wash sinks get crowded at noontime. That’s when dozens of airport personnel rinse out lunchboxes, brush teeth, and touch up makeups. They don’t have their own toilets. Passengers have to stand aside.

• Terminal fee is exacted from passengers: P550 for international, P200 for domestic. Presumably the P12 billion or so annual collection is for facility upgrade. Yet the airport managers can’t even install drinking fountains for the passengers. It’s as if they’re protecting the food kiosks that sell one-fourth-liter water bottles for P50, four times the usual retail price.

There’s worse. Outside the terminals are thuggish cabbies, who overcharge unsuspecting passengers with nonstop running meters. Goonier still are the Pasay City cops, who extort money from motorists to and from, or protect armed robbers around, the terminals.

At international departure halls are crooked Immigration men. Provincials, stereotyped as flat-nosed, dark-skinned, unfashionably dressed, thickly accented, and easily cowed, are detained at passport-check counters. Invariably they are interrogated on suspicion of being undocumented overseas workers with tourist visas. They are let off to catch flights departing in a few minutes only when they pay up.

If the country’s premiere airport is in such rotten state, what more the provincial terminals? And it’s tourism that suffers as a result.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

E-mail: jariusbondoc@gmail.com

 

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