At last! An airport that we can really be proud of

Published September 21, 2019, 12:26 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat




Travelling has been my passion even before I entered the public scene as Thinking Pinoy, and the Philippines being archipelagic meant I have to fly to places most of the time.

And you all know how that feels like.

Our country’s primary gateway, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), has always ranked among the worst airports in the world, a reputation made only worse by having to handle far more passengers than it should. NAIA today handles 45 million passengers annually, or 10 million more than it was designed for.

NAIA has only one runway, in stark contrast with most major airports with multiple runways that, in turn, allow them to handle simultaneous landings and takeoffs. Unfortunately, a second runway is unfeasible because that would entail bulldozing through the heavily populated villages surrounding it, i.e., the government can expect a blizzard of TROs and injunctions.

Adding another terminal won’t cut it, either. Terminals give passengers more space to breathe, not more planes to ride.

NAIA alone simply isn’t enough to handle the national capital’s aviation needs. We need a new, bigger, modern airport.

That’s why I was so glad to find out that the Department of Transportation (DoTr) Sec. Art Tugade and San Miguel Corporation (SMC) CEO Ramon Ang recently signed the contract for the New Manila International Airport (NMIA).

Upon completion, this $700-billion airport in Bulacan is expected to handle 200 million passengers yearly, about six times what NAIA can handle today.

This is possible through its four runways that can handle 240 aircraft movements per hour, or about five times NAIA’s 45. This means more flights, fewer delays, much lesser congestion, and overall, a more pleasant flying experience for our Balikbayans.

SMC said it needs 50 years to complete the entire project, but it will be done in stages. That is, a 35-million-passengers-per-year airport should be operational upon the completion of Stage One, which is three to four years from groundbreaking.

There has been much resistance to the project. Some say the NMIA will kill NAIA. Some say NMIA will worsen flooding in Bulacan.

First, some insist that Clark can serve as the secondary hub instead.

Clark is 100 km away from Manila and that’s simply too far. For example, San Francisco in California is just 80 km from San Jose, but Bay Area residents rarely fly from San Jose. An ideal airport should be, at most, an hour away from the city, and Bulacan is the perfect mix of proximity and population density. The south of the Metro is already too densely populated so it’ll take forever to relocated residents.

Given the country’s rapid economic growth, I am confident that Clark can serve as a tertiary airport for North Luzon, similar to how San Jose provides a good alternative for northern California.

Second, some say NMIA will kill NAIA.

Most major cities have a dual airport system, where most flights are in the bigger, farther airport while the rest are in the small one that’s near the city center. Bangkok has Suvarnabhumi (far) and Don Mueang (near), Tokyo has Narita (far) and Haneda (near), Jakarta has Soekarno-Hatta (far) and Halim Perdanakusuma (near). This way, time-critical passengers can use the smaller airport, while the rest can use the other.

NAIA won’t die: it will just work as it’s designed, i.e., to handle only up to as many passengers as it should.

Third, NMIA will worsen flooding in South Bulacan.

Some groups warn that NMIA will worsen flow of surface water during the rainy season, thereby worsening flooding in already flood-prone south Bulacan. SMC CEO Ang, however, assured the public that NMIA will instead do the opposite.

Ang said cleaning up the silt and trash blocking Bulacan’s deltas  will reduce flood risk not only against NMIA, but also the towns surrounding the facility.

While I take the words of businessmen with a grain of salt, I do not see a good reason why Ang would bet over $700 billion on an underwater airport, or an airport that’s completely surrounded by water.

I encourage everyone, and even myself, to vigilantly monitor the developments in NMIA. This way, we can make sure that SMC keeps true to its promises.

Regardless, I believe NMIA is a gigantic step towards future-proofing our economy, and we all have to thank DoTr Sec. Tugade for helping clear the obstacles to its groundbreaking, and SMC CEO Ang for coming up with the airport idea in the first place.

If done right, and I sure hope that it will be done right, NMIA will be one of the greatest legacies President Rodrigo Duterte can ever leave to us Filipinos.

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