What’s up with the Philippine aviation industry?
SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Bobit S. Avila (The Philippine Star) - August 1, 2019 - 12:00am

The big breaking news in Philippine aviation was the report that PAL Holdings Inc., operator of Philippine Airlines (PAL), has selected Gilbert Santa Maria as its new president and chief operating officer (COO) after the board of directors formalized his appointment in a meeting in Manila. Santa Maria, who was handpicked by PAL chairman and chief executive officer Lucio Tan, brings with him 15 years experience in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, replacing our good friend former PAL president Jaime Bautista who retired last month. In pushing for his new president and COO, Lucio Tan said in looking for a new president to lead PAL, one doesn’t have to be an “airline guy.”

While he is not an “airline guy,” at least for us in Cebu we know that he grew up in Butuan City and Cagayan de Oro and therefore speaks Cebuano like Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, so when we meet him he will be a comfortable person to talk to! Of course being an IT guy, I’m sure that henceforth PAL will have the best digital systems any airline can get. So we’ll wait for him when he comes and visits us.

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Still on our aviation news, toward the middle of June, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte getting wary of the grave delays that most airlines experience operating in the Philippines, ordered Department of Transportation (DOTr) Sec. Arthur Tugade to move and immediately fix the Sangley Point runway or the Danilo Atienza Air Base in Cavite, a move that I initially agreed with, after all, we have been hassled by too many flight delays happening in our airports for so long already!

However, this doesn’t mean that I really did not go into a study of the implications of using Sangley Point as a way to return aviation operations back to normalcy. My first point is… I have always looked at the Clark Airbase Runway as the better alternative to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) simply because it has a dual runway. Alas I was told that Clark Airbase today only uses a single runway because the aviation authorities shut down the other parallel runway. Why in heavens did they do that?

Frankly speaking, I was taken aback by this report, and my friend who has a private plane told me that this was already like this for at least five years ago. I really don’t know what were the reasons why this dual runway was shut down as it is the country’s only dual runway airport. I hope someone from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) can explain to me why this was allowed to happen in Clark Airbase.

Mind you, when I was a private sector representative at the Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority (MICAA) 15 years ago, I’ve always asked for a second runway for Mactan, but CAAP officials always refused us saying that Mactan didn’t need a second runway. Now they have even removed the second runway in Clark Airbase…so what’s up gentlemen?

What our aviation industry needs is an aviation summit to find out what this country really needs to fix our problems. For instance, with MCIA getting its budget for a second runway, the folks working in the general aviation (GEN-AV) industry do not know when they are slated to move out… and to where will they go? I guess that the same thing is true to the Gen-Av industry at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport as to when they would also be transferred? Who really cares for the rich guys who fly their own helicopters or private planes? But then we forgot that the Gen-Av industry also helps train our future pilots and mind you there is a huge demand for Filipino pilots by foreign airlines.

We also need to check our airport traffic controllers, whether they are properly trained with the latest simulators for traffic controllers and above all whether they are paid the proper wages. In the US, air traffic controllers are paid $122,950 per year in 2015. What about Filipino air traffic controllers? How much are they paid? If we don’t pay our air traffic controllers well, they might just jump off to other countries that need air traffic controllers and mind you, there is a huge demand for them.

Finally in the midst of all these… I read in the news that there is no challenger to San Miguel Corp. (SMC)’s proposal via Swiss Challenge to build an international airport in Bulacan, some 50 kilometers north of Manila. I’m not really against this project for as long as the DOTr knows that it is right smack in the middle of two international gateways, Clark Air Base north of Bulacan and NAIA south of Bulacan.

If Ramon Ang can build a super efficient airport, then CAAP can even close NAIA for all I care and that property can be rented out to potential investors for a hundred years!

So it really is a question of whether or not the Duterte Administration can permanently solve the problems besetting the aviation industry.

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Email: vsbobita@mozcom.com or vsbobita@gmail.com.

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