When it comes to Manila’s airport…well, there’s nothing much to say about it, is there? Nevertheless, let me state that the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) is not as bad as others paint it to be. If anything, those problems people are citing about NAIA is with mostly with regards to Terminal 1. Terminal 3, while it has some problems, is a significant improvement compared to Terminal 1.
But amenities and facilities of one airport terminal is just part of the problem. In recent years, air traffic going to and from the airport has risen to such levels that NAIA itself is finding it difficult to address. In addition, the infrastructure around the airport is not enough to meet present and future needs of the airport, not to mention the traffic situation around the airport area. It is clear from these problems being related here that something needs to be done soon. To be fair, there is something being about it. Or should I say, some things?
Short to medium term-wise, the government is renovating Terminal 1. In addition, there are plans to add another runway that will address the current air traffic in the airport.
Then there is the long-term solution that the government is eyeing: decongest NAIA by having a new primary gateway where most flights overseas will be coming in. This arrangement will relegate NAIA as a secondary gateway, similar to the arrangements of other cities with regards to their airports. For instance, New York City has JFK Airport as the primary gateway while the older La Guardia Airport became the secondary one and Tokyo which has Narita as the primary gateway while Haneda is the secondary one.
The favored candidate thus far for this new title is Clark International Airport in the former US airbase in Clark Field, Pampanga as it already has the existing infrastructure for airport facilities and transportation, (especially the road network with the North Luzon Expressway and the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway) not to mention it has so much room for growth and development. But that’s not to deter other proposals for a new primary airport, with some have suggested Bulacan or Sangley Point in Cavite to build it.
Then came conglomerate San Miguel Corporation (SMC) with its own proposal for a new airport.
The San Miguel Proposal
For one, the area where the proposed airport of San Miguel will be located is closest to Metro Manila. It will actually be built on reclaimed land in Manila Bay, somewhat close to NAIA. To be specific, it will be located in an existing reclamation project by San Miguel Corporation (of course) called Cyberbay. But should the airport proposal be approved, more land would be needed to be reclaimed as it requires about 1,600 hectares in land area.
The proposed airport will have 4 runways, a main terminal and 2 terminals for LCCs, (low-cost carriers) The airport is projected to accommodate up to 150 million passengers every year and about 250 takeoffs and landings on an hourly basis. To put things in perspective, such specifications and figures are ambitious to say the least considering that Hong Kong’ International Airport at present has only two runways and it accommodates almost 60 million passengers each year.
Regarding the road network, SMC proposes to build an expressway that will connect it to the commercial business districts of Makati and Fort Bonifacio. There will also be provisions for rail transport that will connect it to Metro Manila’s urban rail network.
As for the cost for all this? It’s projected to cost about $10-B but SMC says it will be building the airport at no expense whatsoever on the government’s part. In addition, SMC will not control ownership of the project; instead, it seeks to earn revenue through the collection of terminal fees and landing fees paid by airlines. The arrangement will be sort of a built-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme wherein airport operations would be turned over to the state after 25 years.
Given the proximity of the San Miguel-proposed airport to the present NAIA, it raises the question what will become of it should the new airport be built and completed? San Miguel’s President Ramon Ang suggested the privatization of the area which will provide much revenue for the governmnet in return. (let’s hope that if it happens, there should be space for open green spaces sorely needed in the metropolis)
No doubt as well that this will impact whatever plans have been made for the development of Clark as the country’s premier gateway. Though it will not impact Clark’s airport operations, it will be interesting to see how Clark will coexist with the planned new Manila airport if it is realized.
There is also the possible impact this development will have on Manila Bay. At this stage, there are two parties that are voicing already their apprehension (or opposition) to the project. One party has raised concerns about the impact on this project on the bird sanctuary located on the reclaimed islands off the coast of Las Piñas and Parañaque cities. Another party opposes on the grounds that being a reclamation project, it will worsen the flooding in the aformentioned cities and surrounding areas as well.
With the project already presented to the President in a recent meeting about the issues surrounding NAIA, the ball is now in the court of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) who will study this matter. It has to be noted though that DOTC is a government agency that likes to “study”…a lot. Unfortunately this particular “study” habit of DOTC is the kind that either gets done in a slow pace or doesn’t get to be done at all. After all, how long has it been for the DOTC to study adding new lines for Metro Manila’s mass transit system? Yeah, you can say I am not a fan of the current leadership at DOTC under the Aquino administration.
For the meantime, San Miguel has been on the lookout for possible partners for this massive undertaking. So far, it has gained the support of key business conglomerates, including SM and JG Summit. That just goes to show how grand of a scale this project is.
With such scale and importance this project bears not only on the metropolis but also on the country, it will be very interesting to see whatever developments will be made on this project. The Urban Roamer will be keeping a close watch on this one.