The need to fast-track airport infrastructure

In File Photo: Passengers boarding an airplane of Cebu Pacific Airline in Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3, Pasay City.

SINCE 2013 the Philippine aviation sector is being hammered by epic congestions, both on the ground and in the air.

A fact that was nearly overshadowed recently by the international embarrassment caused by the tanim/laglag-bala (planting and dropping of bullets) mulcting schemes.

Ninoy Aquino International Airport façade
Ninoy Aquino International Airport façade

These outrageous delays, lasting from 30 minutes to a full hour, along with the bullet-planting scheme, have eaten into airline income, impacted tourist arrivals and is presumed as a factor for those wanting to set up businesses here in the country.

As if that is not enough, the hard-pressed local airline industry had to endure the country’s hosting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in November.

Airlines have been estimated to have lost $2 billion in revenues from the more than 2,000 flight cancellations.

Philippine Airlines (PAL), Cebu Pacific (CEB), and their subsidiaries have lost more than $1 billion from the Apec fallout.

CEB canceled close to 1,000 flights, while PAL recorded 800 cancellations. AirAsia and Seair have flight cancellations reaching the hundreds during the same period.

The Manila International Airport Authority (Miaa) said more international airlines have flight cancellations during the Apec event, while the rest rescheduled their departure and arrivals due to the periodic closure of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) runways for repairs.

Airline experts said the cancellation of flights in and out of Manila have affected tourist arrivals in the provinces.

Lack of infrastructure 

The lack of infrastructures is a wide-ranging term that includes the dearth of international gateways, inadequate night-landing-capable provincial airports, poor communication systems, ancient public transport, congested roads and dilapidated bridges. They are all keys needed for travelers to access the country’s tourist destinations.

The Miaa and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) said there is an urgent need to put on the block a P300-million project to construct two rapid exit taxiways (RET) through public-private partnership (PPP).

At a House Committee on Transportation meeting, Miaa Assistant General Manager for Operations Engr. Ricardo Medalla Jr. presented plans for the construction of the RET, which are expected to further minimize airline runway occupancy time.

One RET, measuring 20,708 square meters, will be positioned on the west side of the main runway, while the other, 12,890 sq m  in size, is to be on the east side.   The construction of the P300-million project is slated for next year, with completion expected in 2017.

He said these two proposed RETs would be connected to the new taxiway code-named “November” inaugurated last month for speedy transit of airplanes from the runway to Naia 3.

DOTC Undersecretary and Vice Chairman of the Miaa Board Jose Perpetuo Lotilla said infrastructure development has to carry on regardless of the PPP outlook.

“These projects cannot be put on hold, as concerns about runway efficiency have to be addressed immediately,” Lotilla said.

He added:  “The old RET was for A320 type of airplanes and below,” Medalla said, while adding the new ones would be for bigger airplanes including A330, A340, B757 and B777.

RETs have specific uses and the one constructed in 1990 was made to divert a newly landed A320, or lower type of aircraft, so they can immediately give way to a succeeding landing airplanes.

The DOTC has lined up five regional airports for developments and are putting all of them for bidding under the Airport Modernization Program.

Five firms have expressed interest in the PPP project including GMR-Megawide, Metro-Pacific-JG Summit Consortium, Aboitiz Equity Ventures, San Miguel Corp., Philippine Skylanders Inc. and Union Equities.

These projects are the P20.26-billion Bacolod-Silay Airport, P30.40-billion Iloilo Airport, P40.57-billion Davao Airport, P14.62-billion Laguindingan Airport and the P2.34-billion New Bohol Airport.  The opening of bids is scheduled in January 2016, while award will follow in February.

The Bacolod-Silay Airport operations began in 2008 after it replaced the Bacolod City Domestic Airport. The airport caters to residents of Negros Island and currently serves about 22 percent of air passenger traffic in Western Visayas.

The project covers the expansion of the Passenger Terminal Building (PTB), which will boost its capacity to about 3.10 million passengers annually.

The Iloilo Airport is among the top 5 airports in the country with the highest passenger traffic. The expansion project will allow it to accommodate up to 4.50 million passengers annually. Other upgrades include the expansion of the car park and the construction of a full parallel taxiway.

The Francisco Bangoy (Davao) Airport is the third busiest airport in the country.  It is vital to expand the current PTB by up to 125,000 sq m to increase annual passenger capacity to 6.70 million.

The Laguindingan Airport serves as the main gateway to Northern Mindanao. The expansion of the PTB will boost annual passenger capacity to 4.30 million. The winning concessionaire will take charge of installing airport equipment at par with international standards.

The New Bohol (Panglao) Airport will replace the existing terminal in Tagbilaran City, which is currently the 11th busiest airport in the country.

The new, eco-friendly airport is currently being constructed by winning bidder Mitsubishi-Chiyoda Joint Venture and should to be completed in 2017. It can accommodate up to 1.70 million passengers annually.

The Caap story

In 2008 the administration of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo abolished the then-Air Transportation Office (ATO) and passed a law creating the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap).

It was meant to address the return of the Philippines to Category 1 status after the Federal Aviation Administration downgraded the country to Category 2 ranking.

The Caap, as the law stipulated, should be “autonomous and independent” with its own budget to craft the future of civil aviation in the country, including upgrading the technical skills of its employees, such as air-traffic controllers, air-traffic communication specialists, check pilots and other related experts.

Today the Caap exists under the wings of the DOTC but the arrangement has yet to prove itself as effective and efficient as it was touted to be.

There was no new international airport nor did the DOTC, and Caap were able install the Communications, Navigation, Surveillance and Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) system.

It is supposed to be the future of air-traffic control management and communications based in dozens of orbiting satellites. It would have prevented the current air traffic congestion had it been established as originally planned in 2013.

Last year Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio A. Abaya said the P31.20-billion joint venture between Sumitomo Corp. of Japan and Thales Australia Ltd. is committed to complete the CNS/ATM systems-development project Package–I by November 2015, but nothing happened as the completion date had elapsed.

The CNS/ATN project was first conceptualized in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization Global Air Navigation Plan, and would replace the aging vital communications, surveillance and air-traffic control equipment at selected airports nationwide.

Since its inception, what the Caap had accomplished are minor projects like water-proofing the Davao International Airport, rehabilitation of Virac building, resurfacing of Butuan Airport, development of the Camiguin terminal building, and the rest is the upkeep and beautification of some of the 80 airports under its management.

Total expenditures for all of the projects were at more than P313 million.

Caap Deputy Director General Rodante Joya submitted copies of various projects mostly for the use of the Air Navigation System.

A perusal of the list included P13 million for baggage carousel; aircraft lifting bag, P93 million; two conveyor belts, P29 million; multiuse communication analyzer, P600,000; friction tester, P15 million; and VHF AM receiver, P3.20 million.  All are part of the 30 items listed under the DOTC and Caap capital outlays for 2016.

Former PAL President and current Seair International President Avelino Zapanta said the Caap law has been a big anomaly.

“The original intent of the bill was indeed to make the Caap autonomous.  This did not happen for many reasons,” Zapanta said. 

He said the Caap ended up being controlled by a board made of department secretaries and chaired by the DOTC secretary without any private-sector representation.

It is on record that the Caap, including the Miaa, remits P1.50 billion of its earnings annually to fund government-owned and -controlled corporations.

“Despite the long enumeration of powers of the Caap director general, the fact that he is subordinated to the DOTC and the Caap board headed by the DOTC secretary, those powers became meaningless.  I do not remember having read in the listing the Caap having full powers over airports and its construction, but I could be wrong,” Zapanta said, who has a doctorate degree from the Philippine State College of Aeronautics.

According to Zapanta, the Caap is a major player in the technical aspects of the country’s aviation.  Thus, it should not be in a position to investigate itself.  This goes for airport construction and operation also. 

Image credits: Noriel de Guzman


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