Last ditch airport | Inquirer Business

Last ditch airport

/ 12:22 AM February 16, 2017

This is it, one big decision time for the administration of motor-biking Duterte Harley!

The administration would have to make the hard choice between the repair by the private sector of the 63-year-old Naia and construction of a brand-new modern world-class international airport.


From the looks of it, based on the analysis of an international aviation think tank called Capa Centre for Aviation, this country could never hope to do both, so that it would be an “either-or” decision for the administration.

It so happened its economic team proclaimed a few months ago the good news of our salvation from hours upon hours of frequent flight delays.


Technical studies showed that Naia’s crisscrossing two runways could no longer accommodate the big volume of air traffic at the Naia.

The administration would thus have a last-ditch effort to upgrade the crammed Naia through the PPP.

It meant the administration would simply privatize the airport and—presto—the Naia congestion could be solved.

Indeed Naia needed the complete overhaul of its 63-year old runway that, by the way, crumpled recently on its own without any provocation.

It could also do an extensive renovation of its four mini terminals that were so far apart that you would need another airplane ride to move between them.

But the Neda-approved Naia upgrade would carry a tag price of P75 billion, with the concession lasting up to 20 years.

The business sector welcomed the good news; at least five gigantic groups already signified their intention to join the bidding.


Do you really think they are rather influential groups with big time deals with the government in the past?

Capa, the former Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation based in Australia, spurned the bright idea of the boys of Duterte Harley to privatize Naia.

Its position was that the country would be better off building a brand new airport through the PPP program, instead.

The passenger volume of Naia zoomed to the fifth largest in the Asean in recent years, thanks to more domestic passengers, which accounted for some 90 percent of the total number of passengers in the country.

Last year Naia served almost 40 million passengers. The volume could grow by at least 8 percent a year.

In other words, as the premier airport in the country, Naia would have to accommodate more flights in the future.

That would be almost impossible, according to the Capa report, because of the limited capacity of its runway, which already hit the limit years ago.

In fact, airlines could no longer increase their frequencies; their allocation already flatted out some five years ago.

To put up with the ever-increasing number of passengers, the airlines resorted to the use of bigger aircraft. This too had its limit. The short old crumbling runway could not take in the biggest commercial aircraft called Airbus A-380.  So the growth of Naia volume was even stunted in the past few years.

That was the sad status of the airport that the boys of Duterte Harley would want to tie up with the private operator for 15 to 20 long years.

According to Capa, with a price tag of P75 billion, even the 20-year concession would be too short for the private operator to recover its investments.

What if, to cut on costs, the private operator would take shortcuts? What if, to recover its capital quickly, it would impose stiff rates and charges on passengers? What if, to realize profits, it would do both?

The report, in a way, doubted the wisdom of the Naia privatization.

We really need a bigger airport, right? It would take at least 10 years for us to realize this dream.

Meantime, as the report suggested, instead of privatization, why could the government itself not just take care of the Naia upgrade?

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