Goodbye, NAIA?
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - April 17, 2018 - 12:00am

I drive to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) quite often that I’ve mastered the best routes from Quezon City. I’m there a lot either to drop off or to pick up a frequent traveler. But whichever route I take, the experience is more or less the same — I would need to spare at least two hours when it’s “airport day.” Sometimes, when the “airport day” also happens to be my “jog day” I run around the terminal parking lot while waiting for my passenger. I do this when it would be very late for me to do a night run by the time I’m back in Quezon City.

It can be tiring to drive to NAIA, but I’m fine with having the airport there. I don’t think turning it into a business district makes sense. It will only create another problem because that part of Metro Manila is already very dense. It’s as if you’re in the belly of the beast – a wild, chaotic netherworld.

So I don’t understand Transportation Secretary Art Tugade’s plan to transform the NAIA area into another Bonifacio Global City (BGC). If we are to be literal about it, BGC as it is now is quite a traffic nightmare. I really don’t know why anyone would want another BGC — or something like it — in an area that is already so densely populated. Will this translate to convenience for the public or for just a few handpicked businessmen?

Whatever happened to the plan to decongest Metro Manila and bring development to the outskirts?

But I strongly agree that NAIA’s life is running out. Despite having new terminals, NAIA is terminally ill. But bulldozing it to give way to a totally different development will be another urban nightmare just like what happened in Boracay – minus the dirty water.

We need a new NAIA, not a new business district in the area. We can afford to have more than one airport — two or even more. Tugade himself told me this in between selfies during a forum last February.

Tokyo for instance has Narita and Haneda; London has Heathrow and Gatwick, while Paris has Charles de Gaulle, Orly, Beauvais-Tillé and even the not so widely used Paris–Le Bourget. Moscow has Domodedovo, Sheremetyevo and more.

I believe keeping NAIA is practical especially with the country’s growing economy. But we need to decongest it and move the other flights to Clark, Sangley, or Bulacan. The government can move the private jets to Sangley.

With more airports the public will have more options.

There are two offers on the table seeking to redevelop NAIA to get it out of its deathbed. Both have concession periods beyond Tugade’s 10-year timetable for the airport.

Proponents may have to recalibrate their proposals, taking into consideration the government’s plan to bulldoze all their investments after their concession period.

But how can we have an affordable world-class NAIA if that is the case? Airport infrastructure is very expensive. The cost will either be passed on to the public or the winning consortium will have to absorb it. Being the businessmen that they are, I highly doubt they would.

The private proponents must be so discombobulated. I am.

Bulacan airport

Having an airport in Bulacan makes sense. It will surely decongest NAIA. Tycoon Ramon “RSA” Ang, president and COO of San Miguel Corp. surely knows what he is doing. SMC already operates Caticlan Airport in Boracay and it has made the operations more efficient.

In a recent chat, RSA said he would tap foreign contractors to help build his planned Bulacan airport.

Sangley Point

And then there’s Sangley in Cavite. This sprawling area off Sangley Point is the former naval station of the US Navy and is strategic. It has attracted two groups.

One is the tandem of Henry Sy’s Belle Corp. and the Tieng family. Last February, I broke the story that they had submitted a new and better proposal. They must be serious.

But there’s also another group vying for Sangley, industry sources said. This is the group of businessman Luis “Buboy” Virata and the Remullas of Cavite.

The more, the merrier

We already have quite a number of airport proposals. It’s supposed to be exciting. It’s now up to the government to decide. I hope it happens soon.

When I was in NAIA a few days ago, I tried to picture the future: a sleek new airport with an efficient traffic system, glittering lights, and the finest architecture.

I will be driving to the airport again this week. But this time I don’t know what to imagine anymore when I reach the bustling gateway — another business district is too much for my mind’s eye. And I hope it doesn’t happen. But then again, we never know. Government officials are becoming as unpredictable as the weather – just when the day is scorching hot, we suddenly hear the splatter of rain. What they will announce in the morning can drastically change before we even get to bed. Indeed, things can change at dizzying speed here in the land of mayhem.

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