Decision on new airport soon?

- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - September 5, 2016 - 12:00am

Like the traffic jam on the ground, the traffic over NAIA begs for a long term infrastructure solution. In other words, we need a new airport closer to Manila than Clark in addition to an upgraded NAIA. The political will of the Duterte administration will be tested in the next few months if it is able to make a decision on this new airport.

It is welcome news from Sec. Art Tugade that he wants to develop Clark in partnership with the private sector via PPP. Letting the private sector do this seems like a no-brainer decision to make… something the previous administration couldn’t understand.

It is the same thing for building a new airport from scratch. This means the cost for design, construction and overall project risk will be to the account of the private proponent, not the taxpayers. Government’s role is simply regulatory.

San Miguel had been talking about such an airport project for some years now. The public had been told that San Miguel plans to build this in Ramon Ang’s Cyberbay property near MOA. I had long suspected this was just a ruse to prevent land prices from going up too much in the place they really have in mind.

One other place mentioned as a possible site is Naic, Cavite. I heard that intermediaries of San Miguel were busy accumulating land there.

And when San Miguel made a surprisingly high bid for building the Calax expressway, it seemed to add up. It will be nice to control the expressway that provides easy connection from an airport in Naic to Metro Manila.

But their bank made a typographical error in the final bid paper and it was used to disqualify San Miguel. Later on, San Miguel lost a rebidding of Calax to Metro Pacific.

There is, however, another area San Miguel is eyeing. I first wrote about it in this column last April 2, 2012 or over four years ago. The headline of that column reads: Ramon Ang wants to build airport in Bulacan.

I came upon that information in a lunch meeting with then CAAP director general Ramon Gutierrez. I was even shown a copy of the project proposal with a lot of details on how the project would be executed.

And Gutierrez seemed 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.

But I expressed doubt RSA’s outburst of an idea has any chance of seeing the light of day. The Roxas/Abaya DOTC had openly expressed its dislike of unsolicited proposals. P-Noy seemed interested in RSA’s proposal, but did nothing to move the project.

I remember asking RSA if Bulacan is the ideal place for his airport. The towns along Manila Bay are notoriously flood prone. But RSA was confident there are engineering solutions to that problem. As for access to Metro Manila, RSA said he was looking at an elevated expressway along the coastline that would connect to Roxas Boulevard.

An international airport in the Bulacan coastal towns will bring economic development in the depressed area. It will also spur re-development of northern Metro Manila that has long seen better days. The city of Manila, whose tourist belt now has a sleazy reputation, may once again become the Pearl of the Orient we used to be proud of.

But will RSA’s Bulacan airport happen? I heard he talked to Secretary Tugade about it. Unlike the Roxas/Abaya DOTC, Sec. Art was more receptive to the idea. But I haven’t heard of any timeline for moving the proposal forward. Hopefully something happens before year end.

I like the idea of the private sector moving into an area where government has failed to do enough in recent years. It will not necessarily just be a San Miguel project because RSA has said he is inviting other local conglomerates to join in making his airport proposal.

Given that there seems to still be excessive liquidity in our financial system, there is apparently enough local capital that could be harnessed to build this airport with little or no need for foreign borrowings. It will also give local capital an opportunity to invest in a local project rather than move overseas.

It may well be that RSA is really thinking of Naic and just using the Bulacan proposal to help keep land acquisition costs reasonable. Whatever it is, let’s get the ball rolling. Even if we start now, it will take up to the end of the Duterte term to inaugurate the first phase. Time is of the essence.


 Bobby Lim, Transport usec for aviation, is the rare public servant who responds to public concerns. He sent me an e-mail reacting to previous columns that reported on the non-working ILS or Instrument Landing System at NAIA. He confirmed that one of the NAIA ILS was indeed not working, but not just for months as I wrote, but for more than a year. Here is his e-mail to me:

“Boo Hi! I appreciate this opportunity to respond to your observations which we welcome so we can improve our performance and delivery of services.

“Regarding your first concern, the Instrument Landing System (ILS) for Runway 24 has not been operational because it was struck by lightning last July 22, 2015. The incident caused damage to some parts of the ILS’ localizer equipment.

“Unfortunately, spare parts needed in the ILS repair were not available when the incident occurred. Thus, CAAP immediately requested MIAA (since this instrument is owned by MIAA and operated and maintained only by CAAP) to purchase the needed spare parts for the repair of the ILS 24 for it to be operational. CAAP and MIAA are in constant coordination to finally address the repair of the ILS for Runway 24.

“I am advised that in the interim, the Very High Frequency Omni-directional Radio Range (VOR) is used in place of the ILS for runway 24. The minimum precision approach for aircrafts for VOR 24 is 870 feet. This ensures safer landing and approach for aircrafts using Runway 24.

“In so far as height clearance permit for the high rise condominiums near runway 24 is concerned, CAAP has advised that all height clearance permits were issued in compliance with pertinent rules, regulations and requirements.”

I sense an attempt to pass on responsibility from one government agency to another. That purchasing the spare parts was passed on to the Honrado MIAA should explain a lot why it was delayed as long as over a year. Bobby said they hope to get the spare parts by October.

If NAIA was privately managed, this wouldn’t have happened. It would have been a valid reason to invalidate the contract. Sec Tugade should rush approval of NAIA O and M privatization by the NEDA board and bid it out shortly thereafter. That’s how to improve things quickly.

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


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