PH air travel opportunity is a buried ‘gold mine’–IATA chief
The head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) was unequivocal in his belief that Manila needed a new air gateway, which would spur growth in a country described as a “gold mine” of opportunity buried under the lack of infrastructure.
IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac, in a rare visit to the Philippines, outlined his views during a business forum Friday, including his appeal to the Philippine government to support a new air gateway close to Metro Manila with a capacity of at least 100 million passengers per year.
The IATA chief likewise called on the government to implement “smart” regulations, lower aviation fees and taxes and to consider the views of stakeholders, in particular the airlines the global trade group represents.
De Juniac spoke during the first ever Philippine Aviation Day, organized by the Air Carriers Association of the Philippines and IATA, where issues on congestion in Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport, the country’s main gateway, loomed large for participants.
“It’s a pity, you have a gold mine in the Philippines,” De Juniac told reporters, adding the Philippines has the “tremendous possibility to expand.”
“You need to have the right infrastructure to cope with that growth,” he said.
De Juniac praised the Department of Transportation’s commitment to expand and improve Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) but turned skeptical in terms of Clark International Airport in Pampanga being positioned as a Naia alternative.
“Clark is a good secondary airport for Manila, but it’s too far,” he said, adding it would be the same even with the construction of a railway system the DOTr said it would pursue.
“We have several examples in the world where the authorities have tried to build a second airport quite remote from the city and (these) have failed,” he said.
Jaime Bautista, president of flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL), said a new gateway should be located around 50 kilometers to 55 km away from the primary gateway, or about half the distance between Manila and Clark.
“Clark is an airport with its own catchment area. It can serve passengers coming from Central Luzon, Ilocos and Cagayan Valley. It can be an independent airport from Manila,” he said during the same event.
The group of tycoon Lucio Tan, which owns PAL, is offering to expand a passenger terminal in Naia through a P20-billion Terminal 2 annex building. Naia’s four passenger terminals handle over 40 million passengers annually, or 40 percent above the total design capacity.
Other private sector players have also been active in pursuing a new airport that would serve Manila and nearby provinces.
A proposal by conglomerate San Miguel Corp. for a P700 billion airport complex in Bulakan, Bulacan province had recently advanced.
Transportation secretary Arthur Tugade said on Friday that SMC was granted a coveted original proponent status for its proposed air gateway, located within 50 km from Manila. It will be designed with four parallel runways and can handle at least 100 million passengers annually.
Tugade said SMC’s proposal had been turned over to the National Economic and Development Authority for final approval.
Higher capacity and modern airport infrastructure would have clear economic benefits for the Philippines, De Juniac said.
He estimated the aviation industry here can support 3.4 million jobs and $23 billion in gross domestic product, more than double the figure in 2014.
“Giving up such an increase would be monstrous,” he said on Friday.
De Juniac also spoke out against proposed price caps and high fees, which he said could hurt the Philippines’s chances of becoming a global hub.
“When you look at successful countries in terms of aviation in the world, they have the lowest tax,” he said, citing airport hubs in the Middle East. “It’s not by chance. It’s a strategic policy.” /jpv
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