Mactan Airport gets a facelift, and more

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - January 18, 2016 - 9:00am

Aspiring for Mactan International to be a resort airport is stretching things a bit, if one would literally think of an airport becoming a resort destination, but this is not what the joint venture GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp. (GMR-MCAC) really means.

Having won the right to build and operate the P17.52-billion Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA) passenger terminal building, one of the key public-private partnership (PPP) projects of the Philippine government, the consortium is now busy with the groundwork for the new Terminal 2.

In the meantime, included in the scope of work is the sprucing up the current terminal area (rechristened Terminal 1) to give passengers and Cebuanos a good feel of what to expect when the airport extension starts operating in 2018. And from the initial work done since the contract was awarded early last year, one cannot complain.

“Small” changes

There have been small alterations done, but have resulted in significant changes. For example, the arrival gate was moved to a bigger area formerly used as the entrance of airport personnel. The really long queues at the former entrance have all but disappeared.

The check-in area is currently undergoing a facelift, with more counters and wider spaces. This also aids in eliminating passenger congestion, and is a perfect example of how space is managed so that passengers are able to move more conveniently inside the departure area.

Self-service check-in kiosks have been newly installed, and during the weekend that I was in Cebu, passengers of Cathay Pacific and Cebu Pacific could already use the terminals. Philippine Airlines is currently working on its app, so expect the flag carrier to be able to offer the service.

Also being tested at that time were the electronic entry gates that could read electronic boarding passes. This, together with the self-service check-in kiosks, brings the standard of operations at the Mactan Terminal 1 departure area to far superior levels than any of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminals.

Huge LED display panels that announce airplane arrival and departure status are visible at strategic locations of the airport, and provide useful and timely information to passengers.

But changes are not just cosmetic. The back room operations and equipment are being improved. A luggage carousel that had not been functioning for five years is currently under repair, and its subsequent operations will help tremendously in moving passenger cargo.

Airport terminal staff, not just those greeting and facilitating people movement at the check-in counters, and the pre-departure and arrival areas, but also those responsible for luggages, are being empowered to enhance passenger services.


But we’re digressing. The real work will be in putting together a world-class operations that will transform MCIA into a gateway that could be ranked as one of the best in the world.

Currently, the airport has not been included in any listing. But GMR-MCAC is in the process of enrolling MCIA in various rating systems to provide a benchmark for all of the changes that it is currently being introduced and will be installed in the future.

GMC, as the foreign partner of the consortium, takes pride in the fact that it was able to bring the status of the New Delhi Indira Ghandi International Airport, which it started to operate in 2006, from being one of the worst airports in the world more than a decade ago to one of the best today.

GMC also operates the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad, India, which is ranked among the top five airports of the world and has won numerous awards and accolades for quality and efficiency.

While waiting for the completion of the MCIA Terminal 2 in 2018, the joint venture is keen on ensuring that the current airport operations in the Philippines will be up to standard to its other airport operations in India.


In building Terminal 2, the consortium chose an architectural design that will welcome arriving passengers, more so tourists, to the general ambience of a resort. This supports the overall concept of the Cebu government to promote the islands as a premier tourism destination among world tourists.

Since GMR-MCAC took over, it has increased the number of direct flights to the MCIA from the US, Europe, and the Middle East. This March, Emirates Airlines will be coming in directly to Mactan Cebu from Dubai, a feat that was formerly thought of as impossible. More airlines are expected to move in because of the encouraging bookings being generated by the currently operating airlines.

There is logic in this move since about one-third of Filipino overseas workers come from the Visayas and Mindanao. Also, there are many Fil-Ams who live or have their roots in either the Visayas or Mindanao, and who find it more appealing to fly direct to Mactan instead of using Manila as their gateway.

And finally, many tourists from Europe or other Asian countries would want to go directly to any of the major tourism destinations in the Visayas and Mindanao which would be just an hour or so away from sea-going fast crafts.

Focusing on promoting Mactan as a better gateway alternative to Manila will generate the traffic that the consortium needs to justify the expanded facilities. When Terminal 2 is completed, MCIA will have the capacity to easily accommodate 12.5 million passengers annually.

Aside from tourism, Cebu is well-positioned to be another major business center in the Philippines, especially with the move of business processing operations to locate outside of Luzon.

Boosting airport capacity not enough

With the boost in airport capacity, the next important move will have to be done by the local government. Roads from the airport to tourist destinations, including seaport and bus terminals, will have to be improved. Ditto for accommodations and more the tourism attractions.

The local governments in Cebu will also have to improve the traffic flow, something which is quickly gaining the same notoriety of Manila’s road traffic problem.

As officials of the GMR-MCAC consortium are fond of repeating, the Mactan Cebu airport is not the destination but only a gateway. Its ability in being able to bring airport operations to world-class standards will only be deemed a success if visitors and tourists to the Philippines will enjoy their stay.

Admittedly, there’s a lot of real work that needs to be done, and having an airport that Cebuanos – and Filipinos – can take pride in is just the first step. Let’s hope that we can all bring this act together.

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