MANILA, Philippines -- After being in mothballs for six years, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA-3) began partial operations Tuesday with a total of 16 domestic flights on schedule, an official of the Manila International Airport Authority said.
Tirso Serrano, MIAA assistant general manager for airport development and corporate affairs, said these would include eight inbound and eight outbound flights, all from Cebu Pacific Air (CEB).
As early as 5:15 a.m., a CEB plane ferried the first NAIA 3 passengers from Manila to Caticlan in Aklan.
?This is a culmination of years of hard work,? said Serrano, adding that they had to repair many structural defects.
Aside from Caticlan, CEB will fly to four local destinations: San Jose in Mindoro; Naga in Bicol; Laoag City, and Tuguegarao City, Serrano said.
CEB will field its 72-seater ATR 72-500, light turbo-propeller planes to these areas.
CEB agreed to pioneer domestic operations at the controversial terminal after airport authorities finally resolved some safety concerns.
CEB president and CEO Lance Gokongwei said they would assess the initial commercial operation after which they would decide whether to bring in 18 additional aircraft for 55 domestic roundtrip flights everyday.
CEB aircrafts consist of two ATRs, 10 A319, and eight A320.
Meanwhile, Serrano said flights from Philippine Airlines and Air Philippines would be introduced within the week, while international flights from CEB and PAL are expected within the year.
PAL is also expected to begin operations of its budget brand PAL-Express at the new terminal.
Meanwhile, NAIA-3 general manager Alfonso Cusi said he was ?happy that the partial operation was very good.?
?Akala ko hindi na mabubuksan ito ang terminal na ito [I thought this terminal would never be open]. I?m so happy we are putting this into good use,? he added.
Cusi said that although the long overdue terminal was ?98 percent complete according to the contractors,? it was undergoing ?continuous construction? to ensure complete operations within this year.
They would also add 60 immigration counters, Cusi said.
Head of Task Force NAIA-3 Mike Defensor said they were ahead of their target schedule of ensuring full operations of the new airport terminal within six months, because officials of CEB said they could bring in international flights within the next few months.
?Once we have the first [international] flight out and the first flight in, then we are fully operational,? he said.
PAL and CEB will field planes that do not require the use of aero bridges -- terminal tubes that connect to plane doors for boarding or deplaning. In a dry run last month, one of NAIA 3?s aero bridges malfunctioned as it was being tested on an Airbus A-340.
But for small aircraft, all systems were working during the dry run, said CEB spokesperson Candice Iyog. ?The terminal will be more comfortable for our passengers,? she added.
CEB?s wide-body operations to major cities in the country will remain at the old Manila Domestic Terminal until further notice.
For its flights this Tuesday, CEB said it would use three check-in counters at NAIA 3?s main hall, Iyog said.
Its first flight carried at most 72 passengers to the Aklan Island, gateway to the country?s premier beach destination, Boracay. All flights for Tuesday are expected to carry around 500 passengers, Iyog added.
The new terminal is twice as large as NAIA-2 and thrice the size of NAIA?s Terminal 1, he said.
Serrano added that NAIA-3 could accommodate as many as 13 million passengers a year (or 35,000 passengers a day) and 28 flights at any given time.
"[The new terminal] will bring the country's overall airport capacity to 25 million a year," Serrano said.
Meanwhile, Angel Atutubo, assistant general manager for security and emergency services of NAIA, said they have patterned the security of Terminal 3 after that of the Los Angeles Airport.
K-9 units and 500 airport security personnel were posted for Tuesday's opening, Atutubo said.
More than 50 security checking equipment were also set up in key areas in the terminal, he added.
Atutubo called this the "four-level security screening," which would consist of a comprehensive security system designed to detect all kinds of explosive and illegal devices.
"Level 1 and 2 consist of the explosive detection system 5000 (EDS), level 3 with the CTX 9000 that detects all kinds of prohibited items, and these will be redirected to level 4," he said.
Atutubo said these equipment cost around P3 million each.
"Our security here promises comfort and convenience to passengers and passes international standards," Atutubo said.
The terminal was mothballed in 2002 after the Supreme Court voided the multibillion-peso contract for its construction because of onerous provisions. The terminal was 90 percent complete at the time, throwing the government into a legal morass.
Airport officials said partial operations would initially involve only 15 to 20 percent of the facility.
The agency said it hoped to keep domestic operations running for six months to a year before shifting to full domestic and international operations.