DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - August 14, 2019 - 12:00am

Kuala Lumpur — The good news as I left Manila for Kuala Lumpur last week is that the proposal for the new San Miguel airport in Bulacan has passed the Swiss challenge and the rehabilitation of NAIA by a topnotch consortium has been approved by DOTr.

Because no one challenged San Miguel in the Swiss challenge, the unsolicited proposal is now in the final approval process. San Miguel wants to break ground, at the latest, by December.

In the case of the NAIA rehab, I guess that will now go into a Swiss challenge. Nothing will happen on the ground until next year under the best possible scenario.

Megawide, the company behind the award winning Mactan Cebu International Airport, was reported to be interested in joining a Swiss challenge. But when I last asked, they were undecided.

They also submitted an unsolicited proposal for NAIA, but the consortium of taipans was given the original proponent status. Megawide has signed up an international consultant specializing in airports like NAIA with an effectively single runway.

With procedures that must be complied with, we still have to wait for three to five years for one or both of the projects to bring our gateway airport into the civilized age. There is no excuse for having an ugly airport that’s also congested. That only leaves a bad first impression of our country to our visitors. Megawide already built and is operating an award winning airport terminal in Mactan. Kaya natin...

Our peers in ASEAN have long ago built airports their citizens can be proud of and can serve the needs of their growing economies.

As always, going through the Kuala Lumpur International Airport made me envious. I have been in this airport many times and I am impressed with how the Malaysians made this happen.

I am particularly impressed with how Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad made the decision to build this new airport because they determined the old one would not be able to handle future demand. That’s how to do it, folks, build before it is fully needed. That’s how much confidence they had in their economy’s growth.

Subang International Airport was still meeting their needs and was not a bad looking airport too at that time. But they still broke ground for Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on June 1, 1993. Built on 10,000 hectares of land; it was officially inaugurated on June 27, 1998. It was completed in four and a half years, making it the fastest large airport ever built.

Designed by renowned Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, KLIA’s design combined futuristic technology, Malaysian culture and the rich, tropical splendor of its natural resources. Malaysians are proud of it. Well, I am proud of Mactan.

KLIA handled 60 million passengers last year, 714,669 tons of cargo and 399,827 aircraft movements. It is the world’s 23rd-busiest airport by total passenger traffic. A second terminal KLIA2, serves low cost carriers. It started its operations on May 2, 2014.

But in its first full year of operations in 1999, only 13.2 million passengers used KLIA despite its initial capacity to handle 25 million. Passenger numbers eventually increased to 21.1 million in 2004 and 47 million in 2013.

In our case, NAIA had been operating beyond its annual capacity of 35 million passengers. Now forced to serve over 42 million, it is no wonder why NAIA is bursting at the seams.

My PAL flight to KL last Thursday afternoon sat at the NAIA tarmac for about an hour before it could take off. We were fourth in the queue. Not building new capacity at NAIA is a testament to the lack of foresight of our post EDSA transport officials. Our puede na or puede pa mentality at work!

The San Miguel airport in Bulacan is designed to eventually serve 100 million passengers a year. It is also an entirely private sector project that shows the conglomerate ‘s confidence in our economy’s growth prospects.

Airports are no longer just airports. It is a country’s calling card that showcases the best the country and its people can offer. It inspires confidence among potential investors. A smoothly running airport like Changi and KLIA pretty much explains why these two ASEAN countries are leaders in the region.

Everything must run smoothly. The airport must have smooth connection to the city it serves. This means fast railway connection as is the case with KLIA. Other modes of transport are also easily available. At NAIA, we always worry about being held-up by rogue taxi drivers.

Just before Duterte took office, I had a number of meetings with Transportation Secretary Art Tugade, hoping he would be able to build a new airport or drastically rehab NAIA before Duterte leaves office. Three years after and we are still at square one... or maybe square two.

Not totally Tugade’s fault. The system is such that it is difficult to get anything worthwhile fast. A former Speaker was feeling he was still transport secretary and was bullying Tugade.

Tugade was forced to cancel a ready for bidding bundle of provincial airports by politicians interested in dipping their dirty fingers in the projects. Sayang... we could be inaugurating three airports by now instead of going back to square one. One of those airports is Davao. Guess who is in line to win its rehab and eventually its operations?

Hopefully, all the political problems are over for our gateway airport for NCR. Congratulations to Sec Tugade because I am sure he is as eager as all of us to get things going, but in our system, it is not totally his call. Finally, what we have been dreaming of may just start to happen.

It is about time too!

Boo Chanco’s email address is Follow him on Twitter

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