Goodbye, Naia; hello, Bulacan airport?
The nightmarish 36 hours of paralysis at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) is a wake-up call for everybody. Thousands of passengers were stranded, tourists ended up disgruntled, overseas Filipino workers were left at risk of losing their jobs and businessmen complained of missed meetings and business opportunities, among other adverse effects. All because of the Xiamen Air plane which skidded off the runway while landing.
I interviewed Manila International Airport Authority General Manager Ed Monreal over dzIQ Radyo Inquirer 990 who said that now was the time to build a new airport for the future. Naia served 42 million passengers last year with just two runways, but building additional runways was impossible due to lack of available space.
Right now, there are four airport proposals. First, the P350-billion rehabilitation plan by the superconsortium of Ayala, Aboitiz, Lucio Tan, Andrew Tan, John Gokongwei, Gotianun Group and Manny Pangilinan. They plan to build a second Naia runway, expand and link the three airport terminals. Second, the P156-billion proposal by GMR-Megawide (Cebu airport operator) to make Naia efficient through more aircraft movements but not by building another runway. Third, the offer of SM head, Henry Sy Sr., and Wilson Tieng to construct a new airport with two runways at Sangley Point, Cavite, for $12 billion, or P763 billion, using a “proposed reclaimed area” of 2,500 hectares. The fourth is the San Miguel airport in Bulakan, Bulacan, which will involve the construction of four runways on 2,500 ha of “privately owned” flatlands at the cost of P735 billion.
Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said the government was all for “multiple airports,” the more the merrier. According to him, if all proposed airports are operational, the 625-ha Naia becomes prime real estate. However, he said there were three standard conditions: there should be no “government guarantee,” there would be no government subsidy either in any form, and there should be no contractual commitment to transfer existing flights to another airport as market forces would be left to decide.
Tugade further said that government would have a say in standards of quality service, tariffs/rates and matters of national security in the new airports.
I think the best offer is the San Miguel airport in Bulacan, just 27 kilometers north of Naia. Multiple expressways can make it more accessible from Manila, with a travel time of about 45 minutes. Here, government will not spend a single centavo, meaning no subsidy and no public reclamation. It also has a faster timeline with the construction of the airport terminal, parallel runways and an airport toll road completed by 2023. There will be a total of four runways, plus a provision for two more depending on the government, with 60 aircraft movements per runway/hour to accommodate 100 million to 200 million passengers per year, including the projected 20 million tourists.
But the most exciting part is the freeing up of Naia’s 625 ha for another business district (the Makati Business District is 100 ha, Bonifacio Global City is 20 ha). Government can generate P2 trillion and spend it on free housing/livelihood for poor people/informal settlers and sustainable free “college education.”
Right now, the Bulacan airport is up for a Swiss challenge until December. And I think all Filipinos want this to succeed.
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