Ramon Ang wants to build airport in Bulacan

- Boo Chanco -

I was not surprised when CAAP Director General Ramon Gutierrez told me last week that San Miguel’s Ramon S. Ang wants to build an international airport in a fairly large property owned by San Miguel in Bulacan. I thought that RSA might have gotten tired waiting for government to build a decent airport, he will build it himself.

And Gutierrez seems to like the idea. The place in Bulacan is closer to Metro Manila than Clark. There are no mountains to endanger flights. And the approach from Manila Bay is clear. Starting from scratch also has its benefits in terms of being able to design the airport according to our needs today and in the immediate future.

But I don’t know if RSA’s outburst of an idea has any chance of seeing the light of day. It will need DOTC clearance at the very least, and I don’t know how bureaucrats feel about as direct a challenge to them as this audacious idea is. If I were P-Noy and Mar, however, I would welcome it as a totally private sector initiative.

So what if it competes with Clark? We will need more than one airport anyway. London has five. New York has three. Tokyo has two. If RSA’s Bulacan airport materializes, Mar can go ahead and sell NAIA as a valuable property play and get the money needed to modernize Clark. The project will also bring economic development to a part of Bulacan that is so close to Metro Manila but so forgotten.

Then again, it could be classic RSA blurting out a bright idea as he often does once his very fertile imagination gets cranking. After all, San Miguel is now working on the Caticlan airport to enable it to take in A320s. But building a greenfield international airport may be too much to handle, even for RSA.

I like the idea of the private sector moving into an area where government has failed to do enough in recent years. However, it is not fair to blame the bureaucrats, as I did last week, because as CAAP Chief Gutierrez pointed out to me, the rules for doing anything in government are just too cumbersome and politically problematic.

Take a vital piece of equipment that guides planes in our air space as they fly through and as they take off and land. The strategic vision of the international civil aviation community is to achieve integrated global air traffic management through the worldwide implementation of Communications, Navigation, Surveillance and Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM). They are talking of seamless skies… using satellites instead of land based radars.

Our horse and buggy system, needless to say, needed upgrading a long time ago. We are internationally committed to have this state of the art system by 2015. During her watch, Ate Glue’s minions at DOTC enlisted JICA to help. But it took them too long to get anything done and by the time they signed contracts, the new administration came in.

I understand former DOTC Sec Ping de Jesus reviewed the project and thought the costs were suspiciously on the high side possibly due to the usual things that happen in government contracts specially with the folks that brought us the ZTE-NBN deal. When Mar took over, he said he will study it again. And that’s where we are at the moment, nine months after.

If and when we finally decide to give the go signal, the specs must be redesigned to account for the growth of budget carriers and the adoption of open skies. The system should be able to handle the increased traffic. But because it is a JICA project, we have no idea of the reasonableness of costs because non Japanese suppliers are not considered.

We needed that system like as of yesterday. One of the reasons planes have to circle around NAIA and why flights are always delayed with long lines of aircrafts waiting to take-off is because we don’t have a modern system for air traffic control. If we don’t get it soon enough to meet our international commitment, the implications to our economy’s competitiveness should be considerable.

Our having been downgraded by the US FAA to Category 2 is the other problem that CAAP is wrestling with. Reacting to a previous column, Director-General Gutierrez told me that they are going to Washington DC on April 14 to meet with FAA officials to explain what the Philippine government has done to merit an upgrade to Category 1. He wouldn’t venture a prediction when we will get the upgrade but he insisted that all the technical concerns cited for the downgrade had already been addressed.

The CAAP under P-Noy, Gutierrez reports, satisfied 62 of the original 64 concerns. Two concerns are work in progress as these involve Congress.  The FAA pointed out that the new law R.A.9497 failed to include a provision that will allow the utilization of foreign registered aircraft (under wet/dry lease) to operate here. That seems to me a commercial concern, nothing to do with safety but everything to do with American business interests. In other words, Yankee strong arm tactics to get a commercial concession… like how they got us to give them parity rights amidst the ruins of WW2.

The other concern raised is the need to pass a law that will establish an independent and separate National Transportation Safety Board tasked with conducting the investigation of accidents on land, air and water. This one is reasonable. There is an inherent conflict of interest in lodging this function with CAAP, the regulator. It could well be that regulatory failure is the cause of an accident.

More importantly, Gutierrez told me they have cleaned up CAAP and straightened out its operations. Despite resistance from old timers, they have computerized everything they do to include licensing of pilots, aircraft mechanics and air traffic controllers. They have gone after holders of fake pilot’s licenses.

Gutierrez said they have also hired 25 check pilots for different aircraft categories. It took them a while to convince Civil Service and Dept. of Budget and Management to allow them to hire retired pilots over the age of 60. Because these pilots are already retired from the airline industry, they don’t mind doing a little public service by taking on assignments as check pilots on government pay scales for highly skilled staff.

CAAP is now following everything by the book which explains why AirAsia Philippines was delayed in their launch. That Tony Boy Cojuangco was P-Noy’s cousin made no difference, Gutierrez said, AirAsia had to follow all the rules before they got their permit to operate.

CAAP also cracked the whip on flying schools, closing down a significant number of them for being, well, fly by night. Flying schools were also banished from NAIA to Plaridel, Bulacan to relieve congestion at NAIA. They are also going to move general aviation to Sangley as soon as DOTC and the Department of Defense can agree on the arrangements. The Navy and the Air Force will suffer some displacement with the move.

When they go to Washington DC in two weeks, the CAAP delegation will require a lot of help from Ambassador Joey Cuisia. The downgrade and our hopes for an upgrade are also very political. The fact that FAA came up with new demands, including one that was commercial in nature, suggests that satisfying original safety concerns may not get us the upgrade to Cat 1.

I suggested that they call on DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario before they leave because he was formerly Ambassador to Washington and he knows the political terrain there. It also wouldn’t hurt if P-Noy brought the matter up with President Obama when they meet next month. After all, everything in Washington DC is political. So long as we satisfy the safety concerns, there is nothing wrong playing the political card as well.

Capt. Elmer Pena, a former PAL pilot who is CAAP’s Assistant Director General who runs the Flight Standards Inspectorate Services said something during our conversation that today’s graduates should think about. There is a worldwide shortage of some 200,000 pilots today and that will swell to 400,000 by 2023. He said, double those numbers for aircraft mechanics.

So, there you have it, boys and girls. Stop dreaming of becoming lawyers. Drop out of those useless mass comm courses. Dream of becoming pilots and aircraft mechanics instead and you will ensure your future and make the investments of your parents pay off.

Climate change

Atty. Sonny Pulgar sent this one.

Anak : Itay, ano po ang ibig sabihin ng “climate change”?

Itay : Ha? Tinay! Ano raw ang “climate change”?

Tinay: Ang panlalamig mo sa akin ay dahil may pinag-iinitan ka nang iba. Iyan ang “climate change!”

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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