Changi at Clark!
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - December 31, 2018 - 12:00am

SINGAPORE – When my Philippine Airlines flight from Manila arrived here last week, we were immediately subjected to an arrival security clearance. Our carry ons were passed through the X-ray machine and some of us were given body checks.

I found that strange because we were fresh off the plane and NAIA airport security should have been presumed to have done a good enough job.

I checked with someone familiar with Changi Airport procedures and he said “we are considered a red station.  Hence, sometimes in Singapore there is arrival screening.”

As soon as I had the chance to check my e-mail, I found a letter and a photo from a reader of this column showing the warning of US Department of Homeland Security that NAIA is security-wise, unsafe.

That’s nothing new too because when I flew to the US via PAL for my daughter’s wedding last May, there was already special security procedures for US-bound passengers. Our luggage were opened even before check-in.

I presume nothing improved since May to make US officials feel it is necessary to issue the formal warning complete with large public notices.

I watched the press conference of the NAIA GM via Facebook Live from my hotel. It is clear he is just dancing around the issue. The key questions are: What did US officials find inadequate and how are these being addressed? 

Oh well... that’s how third world we are. I can’t help but marvel at Changi Airport every time I visit Singapore. If they can do it, why can’t we?

Surely we have the talent and the financial resources to do a Changi Airport too. 

When can we have an international airport we can be proud of? Right now, we cringe every time we land at NAIA, embarrassed with what the foreign passengers on our flight may think.

The good news is, San Miguel is about to get the final clearance to build its truly modern, state of the art international airport in Bulacan. Their unsolicited proposal only needs a final clearance from the NEDA Board and a Swiss challenge can be done by the first quarter of 2019.

San Miguel’s Ramon S. Ang promises to open the airport, even partially, before the end of President Duterte’s term. From the looks of it, it is an airport we can all be proud of. South Korea’s Incheon, rated by Airports Council International (ACI) as one of the best airports worldwide since 2005, will help SMC plan and run the airport.

The other good news is the award to the Filinvest/JG Summit consortium of the operations and management of Clark’s new airport terminal. Their partner, Changi Philippines, will manage the airport for the consortium.

I am happy that we will have a taste of Singaporean efficiency in running NAIA’s current alternative airport. I do not subscribe to the assertion of some critics that Changi Philippines is not the same as Changi Singapore. The Changi name is at stake and I am sure Changi Singapore will make sure Clark works as well as their Singapore terminals.

I am also glad that two reputable companies, Filinvest and JG Summit, formed the winning consortium. Both have reputations to protect and a track record to give us confidence they will deliver.

What I am uneasy about is the manner by which they won the bid... unopposed. They could have won it anyway in a transparent contest. But all the other contenders were disqualified one after the other. One simply quit in exasperation. The way BCDA handled the bidding rules to disqualify at least one worthy contender, Megawide-GMR, was suspicious.

Megawide-GMR is building the Clark airport terminal building on a turnkey basis, meaning they will only be paid after turnover. Ideally, they should have won the O and M too because they know that terminal best, having built it. They also have credentials in Mactan Terminal 2 and GMR is also internationally highly regarded as airport managers.

But BCDA changed the rules and required the managing partner of the consortium to be highly rated by Skytrax, an online survey measuring airport customer satisfaction.

Skytrax is only one of two ratings being used in the industry. The other one, ASQ by ACI has close working relationship with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized UN agency.

ACI driven ASQ rankings and insights are regularly used by official bodies, governments, and regulatory authorities as a reliable source of airport service performance, including enforcement of obligation under concession agreements.

The survey done by Skytrax is open to anyone with a verified email ID to vote. There is no assurance the voter traveled through the airport. It is easily gamed.

According to, ASQ is the only airport rating service that surveys users while they’re at the airport on their day of travel. ASQ measures passenger views on 34 key performance indicators.

ICAO and ACI together offer the Airport Management Professional Accreditation Program (AMPAP) designed to provide specialized management training to the global airports community.

In addition, the two organizations collaborate in conducting certification seminars, safety roadmaps, air transport conferences, and airport and security training, among others.

Skytrax has no such working relations with ICAO and its presence has not yet been publicly acknowledged by the UN agency. ACI seems more professional from the perspective of airport managers.

If we are going to use surveys anyway, BCDA should have used the ratings of both ASQ and Skytrax since the two have their strong points that the industry uses. Or they could have sought ICAO’s advice.

GMR managed airports in India are in the top ranks of ASQ ratings, but that was disregarded. Picking Skytrax alone makes it look like BCDA officials had ulterior motives.

Unlike the earlier bidding for the terminal construction, BCDA was a lot more secretive this time around. Vince Dizon, who always responded to my queries via Messenger within 10 minutes, suddenly was unresponsive.

DOTr Sec. Art Tugade now has a problem. Changi is the operating partner in the NAIA consortium of taipans and both Filinvest and JG Summit are members of that consortium.

Tugade has made statements that as a policy he doesn’t want the same group running different airports. That’s the policy they earlier cited to disqualify Megawide/GMR… because they already have Mactan. Sec. Art also used that policy when he unbundled the ready for bidding southern airports.

Will the taipans now get another partner to operate NAIA or okay lang for Changi to operate both? Will Filinvest and JG Summit quit the consortium? Or will favoritism just shamelessly win the day? After all, stated rules are ignored for convenience at DOTr, as what happened at PITX.

I am glad Changi won Clark and I hope no one will file a suit to delay award. We need a modern Clark airport soonest, whoever is doing it. Lucky for us, it is Changi.

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


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