For 36 hours, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) was closed to all airline traffic last Thursday and Friday. Around 165 international and local flights were cancelled and thousands of passengers crowded the airport terminal for hours with nowhere to go, with the airlines and the airport obviously unprepared for the emergency.
The reason for all this was a Xiamen Air flight which skidded off the runway after strong rains before midnight Thursday. The plane’s left engine was ripped off and it ended in a grassy patch beside the concrete runway. All 157 passengers and eight crewmen were safe, but the accident blocked further use of the NAIA’s lone major runway. The Civil Aviation Auhority of the Philippines scheduled an investigation
to determine if the incident was caused by force majeure or pilot error. And both the Senate the House of Representatives want to know why it took so long to restore airport operations.
The incident recalls questions that were raised for years about NAIA and its terminals. NAIA was listed among the world’s worst terminals as its facilities, its comfort rooms and its waiting halls, in particular, appeared insufficient for the growing number of passengers. Thursday night’s accident multiplied the number of passengers and the result was chaos.
The incident also revives questions about the plan to develop Clark in Pampanga as an alternate gateway to the country. After years of indecision, the government decided last December, 2017, to begin the construction of a new terminal at Clark, along with a system of expressways connecting it to Metro Manila. With its two giant runways built by the US Air Force for its bombers and fighters in World War II and in the later conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, Clark could very easily handle the flights that can no longer be accommodated at NAIA.
The Xiamen plane incident at NAIA should move the government to step up its plans for Clark and the supporting system of expressways, not only to Metro Manila but also to Northern Luzon and east to Aurora province. “We really have to build up Clark so that it can easily accommodate greater numbers of international as well as domestic flights,” Makati Rep. Luis Campos Jr. said.
Clark already has two major runways – compared to NAIA’s one. It has an Instrument Landing System that enables it to handle flights even after 6 p.m. The Department of Transportation has already been provided with an appropriation of P2.74 billion to further develop its facilities. The new expressways to Clark from the north and east, on top of the established expressways from south and west, will cost a total of P1 trillion, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said as early as December, 2017, when the massive plan for Clark was first announced.
After last week’s Xiamen airline accident that suspended NAIA operations for all of 36 hours, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said the incident should serve as an “eye opener” for airport authorities. For NAIA officials, that should mean improving airport facilities – both the runway and the terminals.
More important, the incident should be an ”eye opener” to the national government to step up all plans for Clark, including the system of expressways,for NAIA truly can no longer meet the needs of the giant leaps in airline services around the world.