By JOHN TRIA
As frequent travelers to Manila many of us from Mindanao, have seen how its airport has grown from the old domestic (now NAIA Terminal 4) in the 1970s to the multiterminal station it is today.
The growth reflects the boom of domestic air travel in the last decade, thanks to budget carriers and the rise of local incomes that turned this into the preferred mode of connecting across the islands.
In addition, the recent spike in international tourists to a record-breaking 7.1 million arrivals in 2018, require that our main gateways be expanded to accommodate this added traffic. The recent night rating of many regional airports has allowed flights into the evening, creating more space during the day.
Yet the demand for air travel keeps rising, with international passenger volumes doubling from 11 million to 24 million between 2007 and 2017 (https://centreforaviation.com) and domestic air travel from 14.7 M passengers in 2009 to 27.2 M in 2018 (CAB).
Current design capacity of the NAIA is at 31 million, yet already serving 42 million per year. Experts note that by 2040, this will require more than 100 million passengers per year.
As these volumes continue to rise, flight takeoffs and landings have become so nearly spaced that a delay in one flight creates that domino effect well into the evening, causing delays on many other subsequent flights.
To meet this new demand, new airports need to be built, particularly in Manila, our premiere gateway. To this, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade has a “basket of methods” to deal with this.
Chief among these are the activation and expansion of our current airport assets that the government already owns, such as Sangley Point and Clark, and the construction of the new 35 million annual passenger capacity airport in Bulacan which has been proposed by San Miguel Infrastructure and is now subject to a Swiss Challenge in accordance with the rules.
Opening of alternative bids for this airport is on June 23, with groundbreaking therefore expected by the end of 2019. Many have cheered the announcement of the secretary that groundbreaking of this new Bulacan airport will start by the end of 2019.
With existing infrastructure, Clark and Sangley will necessarily be up and running sooner than the new Bulacan airport which propnents hope will be operational in three years. Clark’s new terminal will be completed by the second quarter of 2020, while Sangley can accommodate general aviation and can be fully operational for this purpose by the end of 2019. The president has directed the immediate utilization of Sangley for general aviation.
Recall that Sangley Point was recommended by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency as a future airport for Manila. Being merely 20 kilometers away from Metro Manila means it will be nearer to many of our new commercial hubs like the Alabang and the growing Calabarzon areas, and the city of Makati and the Bonifacio Global City, compared to the Bulacan airport which may at least be 30 km away.
Likewise, having an airport with a sea approach, similar to Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok and Osaka’s Kansai airport and Mactan airport in Cebu, will not hamper nearby developments or force them to follow height limitations that are imposed on developments near airports located in cities that can curtail development. This also allows less noise for residents and reducing the risk of damage from aircraft accidents.
Clark and Bulacan airports will work for those living in the north of Metro Manila and the growing business hubs in Central Luzon such as Subic, Clark, Tarlac, and Cabanatuan, to which a new route via the Tarlac Expressway has been opened, and even Dagupan and Baguio. With the future North-South Commuter Railway, reaching these airports will be efficient for Metro Manila residents.
Moving forward, we hope that Sangley, Bulacan, and Clark can together allow flexibility and enough volume for the Mega Manila area well into the future.
Nonetheless, we will still need to maximize other regional international airports to take in direct international flights cater to the growing number of tourists, and ease demand on the Manila gateway. We hope secretary Tugade can fill us in on these efforts.
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