Value for money

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - May 9, 2014 - 12:00am

Here’s a sensible proposal from the Airline Operators Council (AOC): because of the horrid situation at the NAIA Terminal 1, the terminal fee of P550 should be slashed by nearly half until the ongoing renovation is completed.

The AOC represents 39 foreign and local airlines plus ground handling services operating at the oldest terminal of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

AOC members have been inundated with complaints from passengers about the lack of air-conditioning and clean water at the NAIA 1 while the upgrading is underway.

Many areas in the cramped terminal have been walled off for the much-needed renovation, which is expected to be completed before the country hosts the leaders’ summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum next year.

The work may be finished in time for APEC, but the horrible state of a supposedly premier airport lacking air-conditioning and water in the scorching Philippine summer will be on full display for the 23rd World Economic Forum on East Asia, which Manila is hosting for the first time later this month.

So far some airport old-timers have been underwhelmed by D.M. Consunji Inc.’s work on the decades-old structure and wonder if it will be worth the P1.3-billion price tag. They detect little movement within several walled-off areas. The renovation of the façade consisted of tearing off the pebbles and repainting the wall.

AOC members had earlier groused that they were given little time by the NAIA management to move out of their offices in Terminal 1 while the renovation is ongoing.

General manager Jose Angel Honrado of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) said the move was “discussed” at a meeting with AOC members on Jan. 16. The AOC said formal notices were needed to inform their home offices and prepare for contingencies.

The AOC, which includes the Manila International Airport Services Corp. (Miascor), should not be surprised since the airport management itself obviously failed to sufficiently prepare for the consequences of what is supposed to be a major renovation. Those long lines of passengers fanning themselves as they swelter in the heat are proof that the MIAA failed to anticipate the enormous inconvenience to travelers using the nation’s principal gateway.

Bodet Honrado and his boss Transport Secretary Joseph Abaya have been under fire for the NAIA mess, but the betting is they are secure in their posts. Bodet is a member of the original Yellow Army of the Aquino clan while Abaya is a former military aide of Cory Aquino. And Abaya’s patron, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, can do no wrong in the eyes of his BFF, President Aquino.

The heat and congestion at the NAIA 1 are expected to ease in August, when Air France-KLM, Cathay Pacific, Delta Airlines, Emirates and Singapore Airlines are expected to join All Nippon Airways and Cebu Pacific in using the NAIA Terminal 3.

Lounges and offices, however, still have to be constructed, so August may be an optimistic projection. NAIA 3 is undergoing a P1.9-billion rehabilitation by Japan’s Takenaka Corp. The work is said to be 62 percent complete, reportedly ahead of schedule by a month.

Noting overcapacity problems, US financial media company Wall St. Cheat Sheet has ranked the NAIA eighth among the 10 worst airports in the world. The 10 were described as facilities with “smelly bathrooms, long lines and rude staff.”

Add to this the asthma-inducing terrible ventilation and the NAIA might jump to the worst spot soon.

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With airline personnel finding the need to distribute bottled water to harried passengers, the AOC is proposing that the terminal fee of P550 be reduced by P250, with the original rate restored only in January, the target completion date for the rehabilitation.

This should be an opportunity to review that terminal fee. Many countries either do not collect such a fee, or else incorporate it in the airfare.

Collection of the fee often leads to additional lines at all three NAIA terminals, with passengers rummaging in their purses for cash.

The terminal fee has been reduced from P750, but even for P550, travelers don’t get value for money. Where does the payment go?

It’s like the amusement tax imposed on all movie ticket sales. The tax is supposed to be for flood control. Even with the proliferation of pirated films, Pinoys still love going to the movies. With millions still watching movies in cinemas, where does the flood tax go?

For that matter, we pay a Road User’s Tax for substandard roads requiring regular repair (for more kickbacks). We have to pay astronomical tolls for the few major thoroughfares even within Metro Manila. These projects are supposed to be BOT, but I don’t think I will see anything being turned over to the government within my lifetime. Or even if anything is turned over, the government will continue to collect toll from the public.

Now the privileged .001 percent of the population is jumping in on this cash cow, rushing to build more roads that are badly needed in Metro Manila, but which will cost a fortune for ordinary Pinoys to use regularly.

We are taxed nearly P2,000 to travel. Why? Our tax money is being used to rehabilitate the NAIA. Why do we have to pay another P550 to use rinky-dink facilities?

These are the sentiments of departing passengers. As for those arriving, the tropical heat is welcome on the beach, but not when you step out of an air-conditioned plane, as thousands of participants in the World Economic Forum including corporate VIPs will do later this month.

The moment they disembark at the NAIA, they will think it’s no fun in the Philippines.


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