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On the wings of progress

ariel nepomuceno_1Never more to being the worst airport in the world! This appears to be the new rallying call of our government in the light of the marked improvement in the ranking of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) on the list of the latest 2016 survey conducted by the travel web site “The Guide to Sleeping in Airports.” From occupying the fourth place in the same survey in 2014, the Naia failed to capture a spot in the top 10. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia landed first; then Juba, Sudan; Port Harcourt, Nigeria; Tashkent, Uzbekistan; and Santorini, Greece, got the second to fifth slots.

The survey used five standards for evaluation: Services and facilities, food options, immigration-security, customer service and cleanliness. The top 10 received negative commentaries, such as dirty toilets, overcrowding, long lines, poor ventilation and air conditioning, lack of chairs, rude and impolite airport and government personnel and most troubling are extortion activities performed by the latter.

Efforts to improve

The positive results came in the midst of efforts put in by the past and current administration in beginning the P1.3-billion rehabilitation and makeover of Naia Terminal 1, which began way back in 2014. The Naia Terminal 1 has been given this budget to institute retrofitting and other engineering/structural works. On the other hand, the rehabilitation of Naia Terminal 3 has already been accomplished using about $42 million in funds, which facilitated the transfer of most of the foreign airline companies there. As such, overcrowding and queueing in Terminal 1 have been relatively addressed.

New Transportation head Arthur P. Tugade’s first quick hits were cleaner toilets by tapping the local airlines to maintain the facilities, faster Wi-fi, and ensuring that all government bodies involved in managing and supervising the different activities of the airports are talking and coordinating their initiatives. Meanwhile, airport manager Eddie Monreal took care of taxi services for pickup of passengers and changing the rules of the game in addressing the much-talked-about tanim bala incidents. Instead of wasting administrative and enforcement time on prosecuting and penalizing offenders, the bullets are now seized and passengers are permitted to leave the airport, subject to careful documentation and recording. On the other hand, strict implementation of flight schedules and prevention of flights “outside of their supposed time slots” have resulted to reduction in the number of delayed flights. General sentiments about airport administration have improved considerably.

 Correct premium due

Why all this preoccupation with airports? One could posit that our airport problems should be tackled just as a subset of the general issues we have in the transport sector. The answer lies in the fact that the air-transport business, together with airport operations, provides massive economic and social benefits that cannot be taken for granted or disregarded.

Firstly, passengers’—particularly tourists and investors—first point of interphase with the country is its airports. It is the gateway to opportunity for all of us. It is a matter of reputation, image and a demonstration of our capability to promote ease of business in the Philippines. Imagine a visitor at your doorstep who expects to be given a warm welcome but would end up hesitant to enter because of an unsafe doorstep, a door about to fall apart and a rude, frowning helper who does not seem to want him to enter. There is also a likelihood that this very same visitor will recount his terrible experience to other potential visitors who may now decide not to push through with the visit. This situation is clearly analogous to our tourist or investor who will experience real trauma if our airports are not well maintained and efficiently run. An airport is a reflection of how a country is run by the government and its bureaucracy. Consequently, many opportunities for economic and social development may be missed.

Moving forward and up

There is no doubt that good airport management and efficient air-transport operations contribute to economic progress. Through our airports, millions of passengers are transferred annually, goods and freight are moved, more tourist arrivals stirring more commercial activities, hundreds of jobs created directly or indirectly, be it at the level of new businesses or those driven by the aviation industry, such as air-traffic regulation and control, maintenance and fuelling of aircraft, airline operations, information-technology infrastructure and passenger services, such as baggage handling, retail and food facilities.

In the area of social benefits, living standards are uplifted, work-life balance, cultural and educational awareness of people are enhanced because of travel and socio-historical exposure. Furthermore, positive relationships are fostered because families and friends have the opportunity to link up due to quick air travel, social integration facilitated, global bonds solidified and jurisdictional barriers or obstacles removed.

The baby steps taken by the Department of Transportation, together with the Manila International Airport Authority, should be sustained by long-term planning, opening up new airports away from the heart of Manila and building the supporting transportation systems, like railways to connect main city airport locations to new regional destinations. Public and private partnerships in this sphere should be taken very seriously so expertise, funding, technical knowledge and best practices are shared to the utmost benefit of the ordinary Filipino.

We can fly our way to prosperity. From possibility to reality.

 

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