Philippines’ airport woes

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak - The Philippine Star

It really seems like the hits just keep on coming for the beleaguered Philippines. Alongside the pork barrel issues and endless corruption cases against so many of our public officials, we also have the ever worsening port congestion issue (already affecting our countrymen in everyday life), traffic that doesn’t seem to be getting any better, and our never ending airport woes.

Our family does not travel as often as others do. While we can enjoy a vacation once in a while, we are not in the airport as often as many of our friends who travel regularly for work, or are in and out of the country every month or so. That being said, even the few times that we did find ourselves at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1, we understood why people would constantly complain about the lack of facilities and the overall condition of our country’s airport.

Honestly, while I laud many of our country’s achievements, I have to admit that the airport is not something we can be proud of, especially on an international level. The facilities are nowhere near where they should be for an international airport, the lines are long and slow-moving, and there is an overall feeling of inefficiency as travelers all hurry to catch their flights. In fact, most of my friends and family try to get to NAIA 1 even up to four hours before their flights just to make sure they get to board on time.

Personally, I believe that as a country that is focused on trying to attract foreign investment, our airport is something that we should take more pride in. It is, after all, one of the first things foreigners see when they arrive in the country and the last thing they see when they leave. If we are trying to impress them and convince them to invest in the Philippines it’s probably not a good idea that we trap them in customs or immigration lines for hours without Wi-Fi or any type of internet connection (vital these days in most international businesses), functional air-conditioning, good restaurants, clean and useable bathrooms and the like.

And it isn’t something we should be subjecting our own countrymen to either. All I hear whenever someone is planning on going abroad is how he or she is not looking forward to going to the airport. After all, the traffic getting there is terrible and once they are there they face hours of being uncomfortable in lines, going through incredibly long security checks, and then facing a waiting time in areas that lack chairs, have restrooms that are not comfortable or clean, and, up until recently, had to endure incredibly hot temperatures when the air-conditioning conked out in the middle of summer last April.

Luckily, I think that the government is finally starting to hear all the complaints and realize that they really have to do something. Constantly topping the list of “World’s Worst Airports” is definitely not something we want to be known for or should be proud of and they are finally starting to take baby steps to try to remedy the situation. I know that a long and lasting permanent solution may not be in the cards for years, but I guess little changes are better than none at all.

First of all, several international carrier flights have been moved to the better NAIA 3 terminal. This is helping unclog NAIA 1 a little bit and helps to reduce the lines and overall number of people in the airport at any given time. Additionally, the travel taxes are now being worked into the costs of international tickets, which will eventually take care of removing the additional travel tax line from the process. Again, baby steps, but still better than nothing. There is still much to be done. Visible rehabilitation is still on-going and until now (October) the air-conditioning is still not 100% — with only high powered fans helping compensate areas with high foot traffic and lines most notably the front where all the check-in counters are.

These little steps of improvement did not go unnoticed as news broke that, for once, the Philippines did not top the list for the worst airports in the world in the survey conducted by The Guide to Sleeping in Airports. This year, we are only fourth on the list behind an airport in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Nepal. Is this something to cheer about? I suppose that any improvement is better than no improvement at all, but I don’t think it’s out of our reach to finally get ourselves off the worst list once and for all.

With proper management, funding, and follow-through there is no reason why our airport can’t make its way off the worst list and maybe, even in time, work its way up to being one of the best. It’s a big dream, but there’s no reason we can’t dream big. Unfortunately this will never happen if we continue to adopt a “pwede na” attitude, which is something we tend to do a lot in the country. We shouldn’t aspire to make things passable, but should strive to make them excellent.

There is still undoubtedly much work to be in done in NAIA 1 and while that is happening, we tend to enjoy taking off more from NAIA 3. However, we are still wondering who will ultimately be running NAIA 3. While the government assures the public they will smoothly be handling the terminal, there are still many questions about their ability to do so due to the Court of Appeals ruling that they had to pay developer Philippine International Air Terminals Company Inc. (PIATCO) just compensation amounting to P116,348,641.10 for developing the terminal. This was already adjusted from the initial ruling of the amount of P371.43 million.

This has many wondering about the fate of NAIA 3 as the CA decision effectively prevents the government from taking over the terminal. At the end of the day, we’ll have to wait and see if the terminal will be handled by the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) or the private firm PIATCO who claims they are also ready to operate the terminal.

Personally, while I want to support our government in this endeavor, with their track record of being slow-moving, long to release funds, corrupt, and more, I don’t think I would want NAIA 3 to be under their scope until at least the problems with NAIA 1 are fully solved (with plans in place and moving). After all, you can’t blame me, and many others from being skeptical. Our government does not have a sterling record of airport management in the past. All I can hope is that moving forward, the changes for the better continue. Again, I’d take baby steps over no improvement at all. Here’s hoping it’s only a matter of time before things pick up in our airport industry as a whole.


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