Manila, we have a problem
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - March 28, 2019 - 12:00am

There was almost no dead air. The voices of pilots and air traffic controllers exchanging details on flights and other protocols were buzzing in my ears. 

Clearly, there is an aircraft – perhaps a tycoon’s personal ride around the city, a commercial plane with members of the Davao group on board or a chopper carrying the gambler’s paramour and her friends – that is about to land or depart every few seconds or so. 

I  heard all these during a recent chopper ride between Manila and Cavite, which was a good 20 minutes or so, each way. 

Through the headphones, I could hear the communication between the air control tower and the pilots of the different aircraft. 

There is no doubt that the primary and secondary runways of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) are so busy and overused for their own good. NAIA services 87 percent of all Philippine air traffic. 

The situation is clearly not getting any better. I wondered what happened to all the airport proposals.

What happened to the NAIA rehabilitation?

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade on Tuesday said the government is ready to abandon talks with the consortium after April 30. 

If no agreement is reached by then, he said, the Department of Transportation would be the one to do the project. 

Wow! It’s as if the DOTr has so much manpower, time and resources to do more than what it already needs to do at present.

I wonder that exactly happened here?  Is this a portent of things to come? 

Will this be another government project that will again be backed by Chinese loans? And speaking of loans, what collateral will the Philippines offer this time? Will it be Runway 06-24 which was disrupted not too long ago when a Chinese carrier skidded off its path?

Perhaps, I am imagining things. But knowing this administration’s love for Chinese loans, I wouldn’t be surprised.

I hope the government isn’t missing the point. 

I hope it realizes the urgency of redeveloping NAIA while working on new and other gateways. 

Let’s not wait for another accident to happen in our airport. 

I distinctly remember writing about the NAIA Consortium’s plan for the first time on Dec. 5, 2017, quoting anonymous sources. 

The following day, the conglomerates confirmed the story. The companies are Metro Pacific Investments Corp., chaired by tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan; Ayala Corp., the country’s oldest conglomerate; Aboitiz Equity Ventures, the Cebu-based empire; Andrew Tan’s Alliance Global Inc.; the Gotianun family’s Filinvest Land Inc., JG Summit Inc., the conglomerate of the Gokongwei family, and last but not the least, LT Group Inc., taipan Lucio Tan’s holding company.

More than a year after, nothing has happened.

Government sources said the consortium and the conglomerates could not agree on the “risk allocation.” 

Does the government want a concession agreement similar to the operations and maintenance contract of the Clark International Airport? Isn’t this agreement the one with identified material risks that was not addressed by the government and which turned off some prospective bidders?

Too many questions are begging for answers. 

Sangley airport

Another project that is being eyed to decongest NAIA is the $12-billion Sangley Point International Airport. 

Sources said the project is a significant regional partnership project for sustainable infrastructure development.

The lead proponent is the provincial government of Cavite, which believes that the project is a good alternative to NAIA.

No less than the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said the worsening air traffic and congestion in NAIA’s four passenger terminals also cost airline service providers over P7 billion per year in lost revenues due to additional fuel expenses.

According to its blueprint, the Sangley airport will have an initial support capacity of 25 million passengers when its first runway gets completed in 2022. The second runway will serve around 75 million passengers annually after completion in 2025. Two more runways will bring up the airport’s total capacity to 130 million passengers a year by 2035.

The new airport is envisioned to compete with other airports in the region.

Bulacan

Ramon “RSA” Ang’s Bulacan airport, of course, is yet another proposal which has the support of many sectors including overseas Filipino Workers groups who urged the Duterte administration to fast-track negotiations for the project.

The OFW groups said they long for a world-class airport to unlock the country’s growth potential and they believe RSA’s New Manila International Airport (NMIA) in Bulakan, Bulacan is the perfect alternative to NAIA. 

It has a total project cost estimated at $15 billion and RSA said the project would create 1.8 million jobs. I also believe it would greatly boost tourism. 

Clearly, we have more than enough proposals. What we need is the political will to act fast on the proposals by arriving at compromise agreements which are fair to all parties.  

NAIA, as it is now, is a disaster waiting to happen. The bigger tragedy is when we just watch and wait nonchalantly for that catastrophe to unfold before our eyes. 

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales.

 

ARTHUR TUGADE NAIA REHABILITATION
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