Gov’t shifts airport strategy; to develop multiple gateways


By Imee Charlee C. Delavin | BusinessWorld Online

THE GOVERNMENT is now looking at a multi-airport approach to address persistent air congestion problems and the need to expand the capacity of Philippine gateways in anticipation of more arrivals in the medium to long-term.

The Department of Transportation (DoTr) said it is now open to building more airports instead of the earlier plan to look at proposals to put up one other gateway to help decongest the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

“To the question of where should our next airport be located, I think the answer is, it’s no longer a dual airport but a multi-airport system,” Transportation Undersecretary for Aviation and Airports Roberto C. Lim told reporters in a recent interview.

“If the private sector is willing to put their resources behind development of airports, we’re open to it, ultimately it has to be evaluated, and then we have to bring it to NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority) for them to weigh the bigger context of what airport is needed, and how it will contribute to economic development,” he added.

There are at least two unsolicited proposals to build a new airport near Metro Manila, one led by All-Asia Resources & Reclamation Corp’s (ARRC), the Tieng family’s team-up with the Sy family’s Belle Corp., for a $50-billion proposal to develop an airport and economic zone at Sangley Point. Another group led by San Miguel Corp.’s Ramon S. Ang had earlier proposed a $10-billion airport on reclaimed land in Manila Bay.

The Filinvest Group and JG Summit Holdings, Inc. also submitted a P186.64-billion unsolicited proposal for the expansion and development at the Clark International Airport. GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp. (GMCAC), which currently operates the Mactan-Cebu International Airport, also submitted a proposal last year to develop the Clark airport in Pampanga.

“We have ARRC, San Miguel and other groups who have expressed interest and we have also scheduled the five regional airports and the response is also positive,” Mr. Lim said.

The DoTr said in February that the planned P74.56-billion NAIA Development Project, a public-private partnership initiative, is on hold for now as Transportation authorities consolidate proposals in order to make airport decongestion efforts more coherent.

The government in the meantime will focus on the unbundled regional airports -- for the development, operation and maintenance of five gateways: Bacolod-Silay, Davao, Iloilo, Laguindingan in northern Mindanao and Bohol (Panglao) worth a total of P108.18 billion -- as it pushes ahead with its plan to develop international gateways in the countryside.

“We are really geographically positioned to take advantage of our location. Our average growth rate for both foreign and domestic tourism is around 10% ... so the numbers are there, for us, the basic thrust is to maximize the use of existing airports, they are already there, to expand them and build new ones because they are really needed,” the DoTr executive further said.

Earlier this month, the DoTr said it is reviewing all proposals for airport projects and will be submitting them to the NEDA -- Investment Coordination Committee (ICC) at the “soonest possible time.”

Citing data from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Asian Development Bank, Mr. Lim said from now up to 2025 -- there is a need for capacity of about 73 million; by 2035, the figure is as high 113 million.

Current capacities of the country’s main airports are 31 million for NAIA, 4.2 million for Clark Airport, while design capacity for the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) is 4.5 million.

“We need a capacity of about 38 million by 2025 and about 78 by 2035,” the DoTr official noted, although saying that these are conservative figures.

“The easiest way is to develop existing assets of the state, so you expand NAIA because there are ways to expand it, Clark can cater to 12 million passengers, we just have to improve and accelerate the serviceability of Clark. From the long-term point of view since NAIA has physical limits, we really need a new airport,” he added.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has urged the government to come up with a master plan for the country’s aviation sector -- either to build another gateway or maximize other airports outside Metro Manila -- in order to boost its possible contribution to the Philippine economy.

The main gateway, the NAIA, suffers from congestion, with 39.5 million people passing through the country’s four terminals last year, well over its designed capacity of 30.5 million passengers per year.

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