The dust has finally settled. All flights have returned to normal.
Now the probe begins. On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Public Order chaired by Senator Grace Poe put to task transportation authorities, along with officials of the Xiamen Airlines which ran aground paralyzing the operations of the country’s premier gateway for nearly 36 hours.
Looking back, the bedlam that was created by the Xiamen incident is unfortunate. The mayhem painted a grimimage of the country’s gateway just as when early this year Skytrax World Airport Awards recognized Ninoy Aquinio International Airport (NAIA) as one of the 10 World’s Most Improved Airports. In previous Skytrax surveys, NAIA ranked one of the worst.
The recent incident speaks volumes of the vulnerability of the country’s premier gateway. The mess highlighted the urgent need for the authorities to take stock, consider, and finally make up their minds to expand and upgrade the facilities of the airport. Building alternative gateways to meet the rise in domestic and foreign travels is inevitable.
It was indeed a wake up call, an eye-opener for the authorities to revisit and re-evaluate the proposals presented by project proponents for NAIA’s expansion and upgrading. In September last year, Philippine Airlines (PAL) offered to build an extension and expand the capacity of Centennial Terminal. The project proposal worth $400 million suffered a snag as the site is mired in a legal case.
Then, there’s the NAIA Consortium composed of Ayala, Aboitiz Equity Ventures Inc., Alliance Global, JG Summit, Filinvest Development Corp., and Metro Pacific Investment Corp. and the joint-venture between Megawide and GMR Infrastructure Ltd. which submitted their respective proposals to expand, interconnect existing terminals, and upgrade airside facilities.
Diversified food conglomerate San Miguel Corporation proposed to build an entirely new gateway in Bulacan. The San Miguel unsolicited proposal to construct Bulacan International Airport worth some P736 billion has already passed the scrutiny of the inter-agency Investment Coordination Council and the National Economic and Development Authority this April.
San Miguel’s proposal would decongest the air traffic flow at NAIA, create jobs and perk-up domestic activities not only in Bulacan but in nearby towns and provinces.
Business groups, notably the Management Association of the Philippines, the Makati Business Club, and Financial Executives of the Philippines rallied for the government to “expeditiously” upgrade NAIA.
This approach “appears to be the most cost-effective and fastest solution to the severe congestion.” MAP has taken this position along with expanding Clark International Airport.
PAL President and Chief Operating Officer Jimmy J. Bautista supports the need for all stakeholders to work on a new Manila airport, with the runways and terminals needed to support the growing economy. The urgent need, though, is to expand NAIA to better cope with growing passenger volumes in the next five to 10 years, while a new airport is being developed.
The country cannot afford to have another Xiamen mess of the same magnitude.
Also, let us not lose sight of fact that the incident that paralyzed the operations of the premier gateway meant foregone revenues and opportunity lost for both the government and airline firms, including support service operations.
As I write this, PAL is still in the process of collating the facts and figures. “We are still tallying the data on the losses caused by the Xiamen incident,” Mr. Jimmy said.
The flag carrier financially suffered the most. All airlines serving Manila did, but PAL is the largest international airline operating at NAIA with the biggest number of wide-body flights. And because the closed runway is the only runway that can handle wide-body aircraft and long-haul flights, it bore the highest cost.
We have to step up. Let’s do it.
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