30 – 30 – 30 – 10
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - June 12, 2019 - 12:00am

According to newspaper accounts, President Rodrigo Duterte made his surprise visit at the NAIA 2 terminal after hearing several complaints about flight delays etc. If that’s the case then many of us have to wonder if the President is still getting updated reports or if negative reports or complaints are already being filtered. As an average frequent flyer in the Philippines, I know that people have been complaining about the state of aviation and air travel in the Philippines for the longest time, so why is the President only hearing about it now?

It’s too bad that the President chose to visit NAIA Terminal 2 because in comparison to the other three, Terminal 2 has the best layout and is in better shape due to space and well regulated volume of passengers. If President Duterte visited Terminal 3 and 4, I doubt if he would have had anything nice to say about the congestion and day to day complaints of passengers who have to keep transferring from one departure gate to another, deal with multiple delays both at the pre-departure, on the tarmac and the over-all travel time. After a very long period of not going there, I recently passed through Terminal 4 or what used to be the old Domestic Airport. The place was jam-packed, you literally had to go through queues to find yours, and for several hours, I had to stand in a corner until I found a seat for senior citizens and PWDs. My impression was that there were just too many flights and passengers for that terminal! 

I have recently kept myself busy trying to find out what’s really causing all the problem and who should be held responsible, and it would seem that the fault is evenly spread as stated in my column title 30- 30 – 30 -10. It means that 30% is the fault of NAIA, 30% the fault of the CAAP and CAB, 30% the fault of the airlines and 10% the fault of passengers and general aviation operators. I’ve been talking to a number of aviation personalities all around and one airline executive actually defended the NAIA management saying: yes they have their faults but the problems are generally due to the outdated and inadequate infrastructure needed to support airline operations and passenger needs. What we have is simply not enough and the so-called upgrading of NAIA won’t cover it especially since all the delays in negotiations and approval has pushed back the completion date back to five years.

Why can’t President Duterte simply let the airlines build their own dedicated terminals or passenger holding facilities?

It would save government a ton of money, the airlines will surely end up competing in terms of looks, convenience and appeal. Kick out many of the “private hangars” in the MIAA complex and move them elsewhere! Even if the “consortium” could do it in three years, the biggest problem of NAIA is that they only have two runways. Someone pointed out that the city of London has one of the busiest volumes of air traffic in the world but they still manage. Heathrow and Gatwick reportedly also have only two runways but they have the most advanced air traffic monitoring and management system in the air and on the ground. I still have to take a couple of trips to familiarize myself with how it’s done in the region, but I’ve been told that some of the reasons the CAAP or Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines is handicapped or at an operational disadvantage is because they don’t have a complete set of equipment or the entire system that tells them everything like they have in other equally busy airports.

Another complaint frequently mentioned by pilots is how “slots” or schedules for take off or landing are supposed to be assigned and fixed but are not. The idea is that once you have been given a slot, the pilot and airline operate toward achieving that assigned schedule or slot. Regardless of whoever else screws up, your slot should not be pushed back or reassigned except only in an emergency. But it seems that “human factor” interferes with the slot assignments and when this happens, flight schedules get messed up. If President Duterte really and sincerely wants a major improvement in air travel in the Philippines, the only way to go is to give the CAAP world class equipment and push for full automation so that the magical movement of fixed slots are avoided. The CAAP should also be placed directly under the Office of the President so that they can’t be pressured, threatened or otherwise harassed by politicians, cabinet members or big mouth businessmen who want to land their private planes only at NAIA and not Sangley or alternative airports.

Until then the Civil Aeronautics Board that is in charge of the commercial and economic aspect of air travel really can’t crack the whip on erring airlines or push for better prices or benefits for passengers because of all the added cost that airlines shoulder due to the lack of facilities, delayed flights and additional personnel. One big fault and problem of the CAB is that it does not have enough people to monitor and attend to passenger concerns and rights. The CAB has to be taken seriously in terms of its role and the staff requirement. Don’t put it out there for mere show like a big dog that can’t even bark much less bite.

Of course the airlines are also to blame particularly for over expansion without the necessary infrastructure and for not uniting and speaking out on the need for government to break its stranglehold on aviation matters especially when it is incapable of developing infrastructure. The airlines are also at fault for losing the human touch and their failure to prioritize real customer service that is based on empathy. At the bottom end of the problem, we the passengers and air travellers need to be educated not only about our rights but also our responsibilities such as abiding by the rules of air travel (be on time, abide by hand carry rules etc) courtesy and consideration for airport personnel and fellow travellers, and understanding the business and realities of air travel.

Yes there is much to be done and we all have our job to do.

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Email: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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