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SMC picks Bulacan for airport plan

‘Aerotropolis’ with 4 runways on 2,000 hectares near Manila Bay
/ 12:44 AM November 02, 2016

Seattle, Washington— San Miguel Corp.’s ambitious plan to build a new international airport serving Metro Manila made a comeback—not along reclaimed land in Manila Bay as previously floated, but in nearby Bulacan province, a government official said.

Roberto Lim, undersecretary for aviation at the Department of Transportation, shared some details on the diversified conglomerate’s recent unsolicited proposal. The project was in line with providing a nearby alternative to the aging Ninoy Aquino International Airport, which suffers from worsening congestion.

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According to Lim, SMC’s proposal would be an “aerotropolis” spanning at least 2,000 hectares “near” Manila Bay in Bulacan with at least four runways. SMC president Ramon Ang earlier said a new airport project could cost at least $10 billion.

Under the current process for unsolicited deals, the project would need to undergo a competitive challenge involving rival bidders. Before that happens, it would require several government approvals, including the final go-ahead from the board of the National Economic and Development Authority, chaired by President Duterte.

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Lim, however, said they intended to move fast in making a final decision.

“Given the milieu that we are in, we have to catch up,” he said, referring to the country’s need to ramp up on upgrading infrastructure.

Regarding SMC’s project, Lim said they were planning to make a decision before the end of 2016. He said that supplemental infrastructure, such as expressways, was included in the proposal.

Earlier, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said all unsolicited projects were welcome, but only if they met certain conditions.

He noted that the government would give no subsidies or sovereign guarantees. For airports, he said the government should not be compelled to provide support in terms of encouraging airlines to locate at the new facility.

This was not SMC’s first attempt to propose a new Metro Manila air gateway.

In step with its diversification into infrastructure, SMC, which already operates the Boracay Airport, sent an informal proposal to the Aquino administration in 2014 to build an airport on about 1,600 hectares of reclaimed land in Manila Bay. That project never materialized given the lack of support from the previous administration.

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This fresh proposal comes as the Duterte administration moves to address air congestion around Naia, which was designed to handle about 31 million passengers annually but last year, that figure already hit 36.7 million passengers.

During the Aquino administration, the Japan International Cooperation Agency was tapped to find a suitable location for a brand-new air gateway. Among the viable locations identified was the revival of the Sangley Point, Cavite air base. However, the government could not yet act on this as a full-study by Jica had yet to be completed, Lim said.

The Clark International Airport was another viable Naia alternative, but even DOTr officials admitted that luring traffic there would be challenging without first building a mass transit connection like a train system.

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