SOS: more airports  

Published January 26, 2023, 12:02 AM

by Jullie Y. Daza


Jullie Y. Daza

There will be 150 million of us by the year 2050 – it’s flying toward us at the speed of a jet plane. By that time, warns Jun Palafox, “we will need 100 new cities, otherwise existing cities and emerging metropolitan areas will be congested worse than Metro Manila today.”

Failure to have anticipated future growth of population and city sizes could partly explain why NAIA is what it is today. Shortly after Senator Ninoy Aquino’s assassination in August 1983, the airport was named after him. And then things seemingly stood still and we forgot to plan for the future; or if we did, it was in dribs and drabs.

A former airport manager said their hands are tied by “rules and regulations.” As he put it, “I could not buy a light bulb that was three pesos more expensive, although it was more durable and gave me value for money, because the law was the law,” i.e., the lowest bidder gets the contract.

At any rate, urban planner Palafox, whose company is involved in masterplanning the New Manila Int’l Airport and Clark Aviation Complex, foresees a population of 60 million by 2050 in the Manila Bay region – Central Luzon, Metro Manila, Calabarzon – and they’ll need six airports. And here we are, wondering why NAIA of 20th century vintage has not grown an inch. If the traveler went to Shanghai, he’d be amazed at how a “communist country” could be so advanced in technology and efficiency, with room for its airport’s expansion and plans for passengers’ comfort.

But Shanghai is such a big city, what if we “benchmark(ed) Philippines against Singapore,” a tiny garden state for a more down-to-earth comparison?

“The Philippines is 400 times the size of Singapore,” Jun notes. At that rate, “we would need 400 airports.” Fly me to the moon – !

Back to reality and landing on our feet, ₱3.1 billion is the minimum to modernize the airports in Tacloban, Antique, Bukidnon, Laoag, and another ₱200 million to build a Zamboanga International Airport. Peanuts! The damage to the Air Traffic Management System that conked out at NAIA on Jan. 1 was estimated at ₱2 billion, not counting compensation due 65,000 stranded passengers if it had been declared a force majeure.