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PAL open to transferring hub to Clark airport

‘Investments in infra should be accelerated’

Lucio Tan-led Philippine Airlines (PAL) is open to leaving the comforts of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 2, a state-owned facility that the airline is occupying exclusively, and move to the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark.

This is in line with the government’s long-term plan to develop the former US military base as the next premiere international gateway into the Philippines.

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“Why not? We can move if we are asked to do so,” PAL president and chief operating officer Jaime J. Bautista said in a recent interview. “What’s needed (to operate the Clark facility effectively) is proper infrastructure,” Bautista said.

Terminal 2, also known as the Centennial Terminal, was completed in 1998 and opened for operations the year after. Terminal 2 was designed to cater to domestic flights out of Manila, but the facility has been PAL’s home in Manila for more than a decade now.

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Bautista said that despite being the only airline in the building, which is an advantage PAL has over most carriers in the country that have to share terminals with others, Terminal 2 has become too small for the flag carrier’s needs.

Terminal 2 is split into two wings: one for PAL’s international operations and the other for domestic flights.

He said given PAL’s growing passenger traffic, the airline had been forced to use some of terminal’s domestic space for international operations, especially during peak hours.

“Terminal 2 is already too small for us,” PAL said. When PAL first moved in to the terminal in 2000, the company had just entered corporate receivership that forced the airline to trim its fleet significantly and cut its workforce by more than half.

Because Terminal 2 was designed for domestic operations, PAL said the movement of cargo through the facility’s freight area was not optimized for the heavy loads on international flights, causing inefficiencies.

“The movement of cargo is even better at Terminal 1,” Bautista said, referring to the three-decade-old facility recently voted as the “world’s worst airport” in an online poll.

The government earlier tried to convince PAL to move its international operations to the newest terminal in Manila—the NAIA Terminal 3—but the airline refused, saying it would not split its operations between two terminals.

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This went against the government’s plan at the time to use NAIA 3 as an international airport and put all domestic flights in Terminal 2. Today, NAIA 3 is being used by local budget carriers Cebu Pacific and AirPhil Express.

Bautista said a move to DMIA in Clark was inevitable for airlines in the country given the congestion in Manila. NAIA’s four terminals have a designed capacity of 32 million passengers a year.

This year, passengers passing through Manila are seen reaching 30 million. In five years, NAIA is expected to reach and exceed its designed capacity.

The DMIA facility in Clark, Pampanga, is being groomed as a replacement for NAIA, but Bautista said the government needed to accelerate investments in the area, particularly in infrastructure, to ensure that carriers would be able to move as soon as possible.

Last week, Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas said the government was considering the sale of NAIA-1, which was estimated to be worth about $2.5 billion, to raise funds for the development of the Clark facility.

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TAGS: Air Transport, Airline, Clark airport, NAIA, Philippine Airlines
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