Philippine airports in best list

Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

No this is not an April Fool’s Day joke. This isn’t a sarcastic spoof news item either. This is for real. In fact, it isn’t just one, but three Philippine airports landed in Asia’s best airports list. Of course, NAIA isn’t one of them, silly!

 The Cebu-Mactan International Airport, which was just recently privatized, is number 18 in the list. And all they have done so far is to clean up the old airport terminal, rationalize flow of passengers, fix taxi and bus stand and give an overall cheery atmosphere that harassed travelers appreciate.

The other two airports on the list are Iloilo International and Clark. Iloilo is relatively new but from what I saw in a recent visit, not that busy. Clark is rather make shift but efficient, thanks to the systems introduced there by its former GM Chichos Luciano, a professional manager.

Where is NAIA in all these? Still in the list of horrible airports, but at least it is no longer the worst of the bunch. It is number eight in the worst airports list, at least considered better than Nepal and Kabul.

But the short review of NAIA is still pretty bad. It opens with a traveler’s review: “Absolutely horrible to connect through this airport if you arrive in one terminal and need to get to another (particularly between terminals 3 to 1). Shuttle buses are infrequent and can take over an hour in the traffic. And forget about taxis, the lines take even longer.”

The website tried hard to be positive. “Ever-contentious Manila International Airport seems to have permanently shed its title of Worst Airport in the World, which it held steadily from 2011 to 2013. Rehabilitation efforts have helped decongest and clean up Terminal 1, and the introduction of things like the Wings Transit Lounge in Terminal 3 have helped make things more comfortable, albeit for a price.

“That said, things like leaking ceilings in Terminal 1 and collapsing floors in Terminal 2 show there is still room for improvement. Passengers remain annoyed by the poor customer service, the long queues, the sub-par food selection, the lack of restrooms and the crowded seating areas. There is definitely a long way to go but we’re thrilled to see improvements come along bit by bit.”

The blog ended with a warning: “Please see our blog post about a new bullet-planting scam that targets tourists and overseas Filipino workers.”

Those are the latest ratings by the popular website Guide in Sleeping in Airports. I can almost hear Mr. Honrado say that people are not supposed to sleep in airports. But the rating criteria covers the things air passengers look for in airports, whether they have intentions of sleeping or just for a quick connecting flight.

I love the good news about Cebu Mactan. Given the modest improvements since the private sector Megawide/ GMR consortium took over, they were able to show how to be competitive simply by professionally managing the terminal.

 I am confident that if we gave NAIA management to a responsible private contractor, we wouldn’t have experienced that blackout last weekend due to inadequate maintenance of back up generators. Incidentally, that blackout also endangered lives. According to published reports, that the power loss covered the control tower too and that makes NAIA a very dangerous airport indeed.

 A friend who was on a flight that arrived during the chaotic blackout hours said they were stuck inside the plane for two hours. The pilot said he lost contact with the control tower and didn’t know where to park the plane. Luckily the plane was already on the ground. It would be rather scary if they were still circling up there and suddenly everything turns black.

 But enough of the grim stories of P-Noy’s beloved Honrado! Let’s focus on the good news from Cebu-Mactan International Airport. I was thinking that if the private managers can get international recognition so quickly just by doing basic improvements, maybe we should privatize all our domestic airports including NAIA.

 There is a long announced plan of DOTC to auction the operations and management of five domestic airports, Davao, Bohol, Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo, Bacolod. When I texted Sec Jun Abaya, he confirmed that indeed privatization “is our direction and policy. I truly believe in private sector expertise and efficiency.” But he couldn’t commit a timeline, as usual. He said he doesn’t know what remains pending.

 So I e-mailed DOTC Usec Timmy Limcaoco asking if they still plan to privatize within P-Noy’s term and this is his reply: “We are shooting for it, but will depend on us getting all necessary gov’t approvals and consents in a timely manner.”

 I guess that means, wala na yan. We have to wait for the new administration and hope it shares the privatization concept. There may be interest groups within the new administration who want to keep government management so they can profit from contracts.

 I had serious misgivings about the Megawide/GMR consortium when they won the bid for Mactan. I didn’t think the Indian partner had what it took to modernize the airport. They didn’t seem as promising as their rivals from Singapore, South Korea and Japan. But I am happy they are proving my misgivings wrong.

 The thing with a private management is the customer orientation that government bureaucrats don’t have. Take Honrado, for instance… he doesn’t care if everyone who uses NAIA complain daily so long as he has the unwavering support of P-Noy. And the stupidity of it all is that P-Noy is blind to Honrado’s incompetence.

 In the case of Mactan Cebu, the profit motive is also making the private airport managers go beyond their mandate to manage airport operations. They are now working hard to increase use of the airport so that they have organized tourism oriented missions to Japan that are now bearing fruit. They are also actively convincing more airlines to use the airport for direct international flights.

 They now have 4 new international flight routes launched just last month: Cebu-Los Angeles with Philippine Airlines (March 15): Cebu-Taipei with EVA Air (March 27); Cebu-Xiamen with Xiamen Air (March 28); Cebu-Clark-Dubai with Emirates (March 30).

 They even had to convince government agencies whose permits are needed by departing OFWs to establish offices at the terminal. I understand that was not an easy thing to do but necessary to convince Emirates to fly there. More than a third of OFWs come from VisMin but all have to go to Manila because the bureaucrats whose signatures they need are there.

 Now, VisMin OFWs can fly to their work cities abroad from Cebu. This saves our workers money they would need for food and lodging to follow up papers in Manila. It takes a business oriented contractor to see service opportunities that arrogant bureaucrats couldn’t care about.

 Congrats to the Megawide consortium. I hope to see you guys go up the rankings when the new terminal goes on line. As for NAIA, konting pasensya na lang. Malapit na ang June 30.

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



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