Last ditch airport
In his last State of the Nation Address (Sona), the motor-biking Duterte Harley proudly declared: “We are building new airports.”
Thankfully, many moons after, his boys in the Department of Transportation (DOTr) have yet to make clear cut plans for these “new airports.”
Based on official word from the DOTr, they continue to hem and haw, and haw and hem, on what exactly the 16-month-old Duterte Harley administration wants to do to boost air travel in this country.
In short, they are lost.
Figures from the International Air Transport Association (Iata) showed that the number of air passengers in the Philippines grew by 10 percent last year.
By comparison, it grew by a smashing 28 percent in Vietnam, which built two new airports from scratch.
Yet, the Philippines posted the best economic performance in the entire Southeast Asia in 2016, with its gross domestic product (GDP) growing by a hefty 6.8 percent.
Our high GDP growth rate means air travel could have grown more. They feed on each other. When foreign tourists and businessmen come, they also boost the economy. In turn, economic activities can further increase air travel—and on and on.
The problem, as Duterte Harley indicated in his Sona, is this infrastructure called Naia, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
For one, it is too old and too small. Its one and only “international” runway is 63 years old—and at one time, it had to be closed down due to huge potholes. Yet, it remains the one and only airport in Metro Manila.
According to Vinoop Goel, executive director of Iata Asia Pacific, the Philippines should have started building airports five years ago in 2012 during the time of our dear leader Benigno Simeon, aka BS.
The year 2012 was the time that Naia already hit its yearly capacity of 30 million passengers. And our beloved government did nothing! Five years later, the number of passengers using Naia was already estimated at 40 million.
How in the world could Naia accommodate those additional 10 million passengers—by making them walk, stand and sit on top of each other?
The DOTr still has no decision on the new airport that Duterte Harley excitedly talked about in his last Sona.
News reports insisted that the DOTr only intended to force us to make do with the existing Naia in Metro Manila, hoping to develop the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark as back up, eventually.
Uh-oh, more patchwork Band-aid solutions!
Based on the popular thinking in the DOTr—if we can call it thinking—the inevitable constant delays of flights in Naia can be solved by merely changing the flight schedules.
Studies showed for instance that the flights were bunched up during peak hours of Fridays and Saturdays, and so all (and I mean ALL) flights during those hours on those dates were delayed.
There is a reason why Fridays and Saturdays get more flights: It is what the market demands, for god’s sake! The public simply prefers to take trips on those days!
The DOTr simply changes the flight schedules and, voila, the problem disappears!
One big problem in Naia is its limited space: no space for big parking areas, no space for wider driveways and no space for more lounges. Look, the duty free shops are even located right smack in the middle of the halls. Where in the world?
Aside from the crowded terminals, the bigger problem in Naia is its old one and only international runway.
As its last ditch effort to solve the space problem in Naia, according to the bright DOTr thinking, we can have two international airports in Naia and DMIA.
DMIA may have the runway, but it has a pathetic terminal; Naia has the problematic limited runway, but the DOTr wants to pour more money into its terminals.
The flight delays in Naia already cost the airlines about P1 billion a year, which is seen to quadruple to some P4 billion a year by 2020.
That is only three years from now.
Guess how the airlines will try to recover their losses? Hint: We have more than 10 million OFWs who come home every year.
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