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Lack of infrastructure cited in limited tourism, air travel growth

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Lack of infrastructure cited in limited tourism, air travel growth

MANILA, Philippines—The poor quality of infrastructure in the country is threatening to hold back the growth of the country’s tourism and air travel sector, driven by rapidly expanding low-cost carriers.

Budget airlines have announced aggressive expansion plans for the next several years, but the additional traffic that this would create may be too much for the country’s overextended airports.

“It is clear to both the government and the private sector that the existing network must be improved. This is the reason why airport projects are among those included in the government’s priority projects,” said Candice Iyog, Cebu Pacific vice president for marketing.

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More than 90 percent of all air traffic in the country is served out of the congested Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) airport system. And due to its location, NAIA has run out of space to build additional facilities such as terminals and runways to accommodate growing traffic.

Due to the lack of runway space, it has become commonplace for a plane full of passengers to sit idle for more than an hour just waiting for its turn to take off.

This has become a hindrance to many budget airlines, whose business model dictates that planes are able to land, pick up passengers and take off in as little time as possible.

Cebu Pacific earlier announced an order for 37 brand-new Airbus jets worth $3.8 billion over the next 10 years. This is in line with the company’s ambitions to be one of the region’s leading budget carriers.

“NAIA is the country’s premier aviation hub; it is already among the top 50 busiest airports in the world in terms of passengers handled. Given its importance, any restriction in its ability to handle aircraft will mean less flights and higher prices for air travel into and out of the country,” Iyog pointed out.

“A thorough analysis of demand and capacity must be conducted to find a solution that would promote growth not only for the airline industry, but also for tourism, trade and ultimately the traveling public,” Iyog said.

AirPhil Express, the sister company of flag carrier Philippine Airlines, said the quick solution to the congestion at NAIA would be moving more traffic to the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) in Clark, Pampanga.

AirPhil Express senior vice president for marketing and sales Alfredo Herrera said that while Manila would remain a key gateway, its facilities were no longer enough to support the industry’s growth.

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“This is why we are focusing on airports outside of Manila. We already have a hub in Cebu and now we’re setting up in Clark,” Herrera said. AirPhil Express will start its first flights out of DMIA by October, with its eye on popular regional destinations such as Singapore and Hong Kong.

The company recently announced plans to acquire six new 180-seater Airbus A320 jets by the end of next year. This will add to the company’s current fleet of seven A320s.

The DMIA is currently being groomed to replace NAIA as the country’s premier international gateway. The Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) earlier said that Clark would likely start out as a hub for budget carriers.

But before Clark could become a viable option, Herrera said the government needed to build a direct link, most likely through the construction of a high-speed train system, between NAIA and DMIA.

But Herrera said government efforts should not be focused on Clark alone. He said simple measures such as installing navigation equipment that would allow night landings at minor airports around the country would yield immediate results.

“For instance, airlines would like to fly more to Ormoc, but the problem is they don’t have night landing equipment, so we have to schedule our flights during the daytime,” Herrera said.

Cebu Pacific’s Iyog, meanwhile, said the recent government proposal to move aviation schools and private hangars out of NAIA to provincial airports could add to much-needed space for commercial airlines.

She said there were still ways to make NAIA a more efficient facility, especially since any major development at Clark would take several years to complete.

Iyog said the construction of more runway exits, to allow landing aircraft to immediately leave the runway and allow the next one to either take off or land, would be a quick-fix to increase efficiency.

“At present, landing aircraft at times require having to taxi all the way to the nearest exit, consuming precious time and delaying the next aircraft movement. A minute saved here per aircraft will mean a lot to the airport and the airlines, and definitely address congestion,” Iyog said.

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