Airport congestion, inefficiency: MIA management defying Duterte

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - April 24, 2019 - 12:00am

Not only barnstorming politicos congested the runways last Holy Week at Manila International Airport. Their private jets disrupted commercial flights that should be MIA’s priority. Per rules, MIA should have sent them to nearby Sangley or Clark airstrips.

Two other flops upset airline takeoffs and landings on that hectic holiday week. Both display MIA mismanagement.

First was the last minute asphalting of a taxiway pothole. Workmen had just repaved last March that ramp between Runway 13-31 and Terminal-2. By sheer negligence “action officers” did not see a three square-meter rut till last Tuesday. Jumbos could dip. The area had to be cordoned off for repair starting Good Friday. By more negligence, the Control Tower and Ramp Safety were not informed ahead, causing more  disruptions.

Second was the prolonged digging at the edge of Runway 06. That weeks-long work drastically shortens the runway’s usable length. Aircraft payload – fuel, cargo, passengers – have to be reduced. Only such downgraded flights could be accommodated on Runway 06 during Holy Week. MIA managers were unready for the annual holiday rush. As if not in control, they insinuated that airlines unilaterally had altered flight schedules. Their notices to airmen showed the truth; it was they who made untimely changes.

Tens of thousands of passengers were inconvenienced. Connecting flights and destination bookings were missed. Airlines lost revenues due to cancelled, diverted, and delayed flights. As the frontline, they were blamed for the mess. Their on-time performances show they were not at fault. In domino effect, disruptions at MIA warped operations at other domestic and foreign airports.

MIA’s “action officers” report directly to the general manager. He couldn’t bawl them out; they’re his rah-rah boys, insiders sneered. He couldn’t face inquiring newsmen either; he was holidaying in Bicol. His “action officers” only sit in their air-conditioned offices. An aviation official remarked: “MIA should be changed to mean ‘missing in action’.”

Civil aviation authorities were left explaining the taxi/runway faults beyond their scope. The Civil Aeronautics Board reiterated that passengers could get refunds for airline lapses, but was silent on recompense for airport louse-ups.

Are MIA bosses asking for it? Only two weeks ago President Rody Duterte growled about “congestion and inefficiency” at the country’s premiere gateway. If things don’t improve, he’ll call in the Air Force to take over, he warned. The tired old MIA managers don’t seem to worry. So long as they suck up to higher-ups at the Dept. of Transport, they think they’re protected. They imagine themselves to be untouchable, even by the President.

Two concerns occupy the MIA bosses, though. One is their private business derived from public offices. They make a killing escorting VIPs through departure and arrival procedures. That’s why hundreds of VIP security passes are in the hands not only of self-entitled congressmen but also influence peddlers. They own the exclusive white taxis at MIA terminals. Their cabbies can be abusive. Last Wednesday one robbed a female overseas worker of $40 cash and mobile phone. Only recently that crook had been arrested for overcharging another new arrival P1,250 for a few blocks’ ride and threatening him with a tire wrench.

The other preoccupation is a P620-million facelift of Terminal-2. MIA bosses have been hushing it up. Details have been kept from MIA Authority board members, in charge of policies and directions (see Gotcha, 21 Dec. 2018: https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2018/12/21/1878683/airport-railway-chiefs-under-fire-opacity). Apparent overprice has been questioned. One item, P46 million, supposedly is for cleaning and treatment alone of interior floors, corridor walls, and ceilings. But tests showed no difference between treated and untreated granite and marble tiles. The entire work is unnecessary. DOTr higher-ups are contracting the rehab of all five MIA terminals.

Unattended are crucial issues, like safety and security. Last January the US Dept. of Homeland Security blacklisted MIA for overall substandard. Severely affected were inbound flights to America. Airlines may not increase flight frequencies and destinations. Passengers must submit to additional rigorous body and baggage checks. MIA managers mistakenly believe everything will be solved by acquiring additional metal detectors and baggage x-rays. They do not understand that global standards require security consciousness in all the minutest details.

Take, for example, perimeter gate guarding. At least two sentries must be on duty at any time. But watch them at lunch or supper abandon their posts, except for one assignee, to eat what they bought as a group, so nobody gets more than the others. Such inappropriate backward notions permeate from the top. The US-DHS is set to re-inspect MIA in July. Further failures would lead to other international blacklisting.

Postscript: MIA bosses yesterday convened an emergency meeting set on Monday even before the 5:11 p.m. earthquake. A warning was issued to airlines against cancelling, delaying, or diverting flights using the temblor as excuse. It was another sly way to make it look like airlines were the cause of the airport mess.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website https://www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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