By Floro Mercene
Despite ending the “tanim-bala” scam and some cosmetic improvements, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) still ranks as the 5th worst airport in Asia, “The Guide to Sleeping in Airports,” survey said.
In September, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) approved the P74.56-billion NAIA rehabilitation and upgrade of its four terminals. However, two proposals from the private sector, one from the Solar Group for a new airport in Sangley Point, Cavite, and another from San Miguel Corporation (SMC) for Bulacan, have seemingly diverted the Department of Transportation’s (DOTr) attention. DOTr has yet to release the terms of reference or an invitation to bid for the project.
These proposals, while potentially beneficial for the country, should not be prioritized over the NAIA project. It is very difficult to evaluate unsolicited proposals and the process of acquiring right-of-way land and construction simply takes too long.
The optimal capacity of NAIA was 30 million passengers annually, while its maximum capacity is 35 million. Last year, 37 million travelers arrived or departed through NAIA, 7 percent higher than the year before. It is safe to assume that all passengers in excess of the optimal number experienced delay or, were diverted to the Clark Airport. This unfortunately happened to Japan’s Foreign Minister when he visited the country a few months ago.
This embarrassing incident was caused by runway congestion. At its current state, NAIA can only accommodate 40 landings and take-offs per hour. The only way to increase this number is to upgrade the runways and air traffic control equipment since flight slotting can only do so much. Most departures are still delayed, and incoming flights often circle for hours, exposing passengers to undue risks.
More flights can’t be added because the airport’s capabilities are limited; a major inconvenience and potential revenue loss. Upgrading facilities would minimize or eliminate delays and ensure the passengers’ safety.
The DOTr should not sit on an already approved project. The administration has to prod the DOTr to start implementing the NAIA project ASAP. This may not necessarily resolve the bulk of NAIA’s problems but it will at least give air-weary countrymen something to look forward to.