Better Philippines gateway expected

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes - The Philippine Star

If there are any fears and concerns about the environmental soundness of the new Manila International Airport being developed by the San Miguel Corp. (SMC) Group in Bulakan, Bulacan, then the recent Dutch State decision to support it should all put these to rest.

To recall, SMC at the end of 2020 awarded to Dutch firm Royal Boskalis Westminster NV, through its wholly owned subsidiary Boskalis Philippines, a $1.73-billion contract to undertake land development works for the P740-billion airport project. This is Royal Boskalis’ biggest project in its history.

The Dutch company was chosen via a rigorous selection process that included the world’s biggest and best dredging companies. According to SMC president and chief operating officer Ramon Ang, the selection of a global giant in dredging shows how committed they are to doing everything necessary to make sure that the airport project is developed properly and sustainably.

Boskalis is a global dredging contractor with a successful track record spanning more than a century and is known for major projects worldwide such as the ongoing development of Singapore’s Tia’s Terminal Phase 2 port and its Tekong polder projects. It is also involved in the development of the Songco International City, the Punta Pacifica Islands in Panama, five islands in Makassar in Indonesia, and the Ijburg residential area in Amsterdam.

For his part, Boskalis CEO Peter Berdowski said their company has a rich tradition in creating land all over the world to the highest technical and environmental standards. Boskalis’ workplan and methodology includes measures to prevent soil liquefaction in the entire area.

And then more recently, the Dutch State, represented by Atradius Dutch State Business (DSB), decided to support Boskalis’ largest project by means of an export credit insurance (ECI).

Atradius will not grant this ECI unless it it is assured among other things, that the San Miguel airport project of Boskalis is not environmentally sound.

As part of the process of obtaining an ECI, Boskalis conducted an extensive environmental and social impact assessment in accordance with the highest international standards and this assessment was done together with a large group of experts from its own organization, the client, and four renowned consultancy firms. Thorough impact analyses were also conducted and compensation plans drawn up to mitigate or compensate for any adverse effects.

Berdowski noted that for more than a year, they have worked intensively with Atradius to ensure that the construction of the new Bulacan airport will take place in a socially responsible manner. He added that in collaboration with Atradius and the Dutch Embassy, they succeeded in developing a broadly supported plan with an eye for the local community and the preservation of biodiversity.

Meanwhile, Atradius DSB managing director Bert Bruning was quoted as saying that the project is unique on so many levels not only because it is a very important contract for Boskalis but also because it is Atradius’ largest ECA policy in its 90-year history. He added that together with Boskalis and SMC, they were able to ensure that the airport project meets international standards in the field of environmental and social conditions.

The new airport site comprises about 1,700 hectares and its construction will be carried out to the highest engineering and environmental standards to withstand the effects of possible major earthquakes, local typhoons, and future sea level rise.

All these should address any remaining concerns that local naysayers have raised regarding this landmark project.

One article noted that for the Netherlands whose climate protection action ranks within the top 20 of the Climate Change Performance Index 2022, facing climate issues is a serious business that has to be addressed, whether it is government is striking “Green Deals” at home or with foreign countries.

With a climate plan that centers on the reduction of the Netherlands’ greenhouse gas emissions by 49 percent by 2030 (compared to the 1990 levels), and a 90 percent reduction by 2050, the Dutch government has been meticulous in all business dealings, especially with foreign projects. It has focused on making the various sectors participate in its green programs, including electricity, industry, built environment, traffic and transport, and agriculture.

The new Bulacan airport is not only going to be environmentally and socially sound based on international standards, it will also be sound on so many levels too.

It will have initially two parallel runways but will be designed to eventually have four expandable to six, which will allow more aircrafts to land and take off at a much shorter span of time, and safer at that.

Designed to accommodate up to 100 million flyers annually, the NMIA will  also have eight taxiways and three passenger terminals. It will also have a 12,009-hectare township nearby that will feature a residential zone, government center, seaport, and an industrial zone.

What many do not realize or refuse to acknowledge is the fact that our current Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), which has only two intersecting runways for takeoff and landing, is simply not designed to accommodate huge traffic. This is the reason why our departures and arrivals are often late because our planes have to wait for other planes to leave or arrive first.

Since 2012, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has been highlighting on a regular basis the issue of a potentially dangerous intersecting runway configuration at NAIA which is exacerbated by poor signage, lighting and markings.

The NAIA is experiencing congestion problems because the demand for operations is greater than the airport’s capacity and with domestic and international airlines constantly expanding their services and increasing their flights, NAIA just simply cannot cope up.

In 2018, NAIA handled 45 million passengers, way above its design of 31 million.

NAIA’s capacity is said to be at 40 aircraft movements per hour for commercial flights, cargo flights and general aviation. This can be stretched to a maximum of 44 aircraft movements  per hour, depending on the skills and cooperation of both the air craft controller and the pilots.

Right now, sequencing of flights is based on a first-come, first-served basis. One local study noted that during peak hours, all flights are expected to be delayed and the average delay experienced by each aircraft due to operational inefficiencies is 14 minutes.

And we probably have all noticed how steep the landing at NAIA is due to the short runway and because of its location which is near commercial and residential structures. An airport should ideally be near bodies of water so that it will have sufficient space to approach the runway at a much lower level. I will no longer discuss why on earth was NAIA placed smack in the middle of a busy area but suffice to say that at that time, that was the only area available.

This should not be a problem with the Bulacan airport, which will allow aircraft to approach the airport at a less dangerous angle because of the length of its runway and its location. It’s four parallel runways will consists of two pairs of 3.5 kilometers and 2.6 kilometers.

Each of the runway at the new airport can also contain around 60 aircraft movements per hour.

The new Bulacan airport is the best thing that can happen for our economy.



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