Mactan International Airport all set to open

THE Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) Terminal 2 is all set to open tomorrow, June 7—increasing passenger capacity to 12.5 million. GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp. (GMCAC) President Louie B. Ferrer boasted that they still managed to catch up and deliver before the deadline, despite previous delays in the turnover of the project.

“We’re even opening ahead of schedule. Concession agreement is [on] July 1, 2018. So we are opening this June,” he told the BusinessMirror during a tour for Manila-based reporters, who were recently flown to Cebu.

No less than President Duterte will grace the formal inauguration of the new world-class passenger terminal building, which spans around 65,500 square meter. Full commercial operations will commence on June 22.

Alongside the launch of new flights out of Cebu, passenger traffic in the airport is also projected to grow.

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“We expect our traffic at the end of 2018 to cross about 11.2 million, especially with the trajectory we have at the moment, which really makes us really play a valuable role,” GMCAC Chief Executive Advisor Andrew Harrison said. He cited that this is 12 percent higher than the passenger count of 10 million last year, mainly due to their destination marketing initiatives.

These efforts of the Filipino-Indian consortium are aimed at beefing up Cebu’s connectivity and positioning it as a viable gateway to the rest of the Philippines, as well as a major transfer hub to other countries. Domestic-wise, MCIA currently serves 35 destinations, with seven carriers, namely, Cebu Pacific, Cebgo, Philippine Airlines, PAL Express, Philippine AirAsia, AirSwift and Air Juan.

“For us, domestic connectivity is very important. We’re a nation of 7,000 islands. So connecting to small islands is very important. We use the domestic feeder services to feed into the regional and long-haul international flights, and vice versa,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the airport is now connected to 22 international destinations, with 17 foreign carriers.   In 2016 it had met and discussed with airport operators in Sweden, Australia and Japan to market the Queen City of the South as a destination and to showcase MCIA as an ideal gateway to the Philippines, as well as explore new networks for the airport. GMCAC then opened eight new routes to China last year.

“[It] has been very exciting, and we expect that to grow because we’ve only got the tiny tip of the iceberg when it comes to Chinese traffic,” Harrison said.

Apart from servicing the United States soon, he bared that they are keeping tab on other markets overseas. “Our focus is on Australia and Europe. We want direct services connected between Cebu and Europe, as well as Australia,” he added.

The top advisor said that new routes to other Southeast Asian nations will also be in the works in the next couple of years.

Expanding connections not only to China, but also to Japan and South Korea are being studied to support the increasing number of tourists coming in from these countries.

As per the Department of Tourism, 51.2 percent of all foreign arrivals in the Philippines came via Cebu at the latest. This is 10.2 percent over the 41 percent of non-Filipino travelers going in and out of MCIA since GMCAC started handling the terminal operations and maintenance on November 1, 2014. 

“So it means, we are now actually attracting a majority of foreign tourists coming in to the country,” Harrison explained.

Approximately, about 40 percent of the total alien travelers going to Cebu are Koreans; 15 percent, Japanese; 8 percent, Chinese; 6 percent, Americans; and 31 percent, mixed nationalities.

Ferrer said that the Chinese people are among their top targets since they are emerging as the world’s biggest tourist spenders. 

“We are looking to promote Cebu to other untapped markets and this includes other provinces in China. We want to bring this high-spending Chinese market to Cebu,” he added.

The GMCAC president is bullish to achieve this goal given the improving relationship of the country with China and the growing offshore gaming operations catering mostly to players from the most populous nation in the world.

Resort-themed aviation facility

BEYOND decongesting the air traffic in Cebu, the MCIA Terminal 2 is highly anticipated to offer an exciting world-class aviation with its uniquely indigenous architecture and modern amenities—just convincing enough to dispel the country’s reputation of having one of the worst airports globally.

With Hong Kong-based Integrated Design Associates as part of its design team, the new passenger terminal is designed to evoke the warmth and friendliness of the local culture. 

“The idea is that your resort experience stops the moment you land and continues all the way to the moment you depart,” Harrison explained.

Up close or even from a distance, the dynamic elegance and lightness of the roof made out of wood is the most recognizable element of terminal. The structure is composed of an array of glulam (glue-laminated) arches, which form the roof curvature and define its geometry and modularity. 

The arches span every 30 meters, which allows the second terminal to be as column-free as possible. Imported from Austria, the white alpine’s wood has a service life of about 200 years and just needs to protect with coating every 50 years. 

“So it’s more durable than steel. It is designed to exceed all of the parameters for extreme weather conditions that you experience here,” he said.

For passengers to enjoy the natural vistas outside, internal spaces are enclosed by a light and transparent glazed façade. The arch facade is 15 meters tall, enabling the natural light to come into the building. Also, it is accentuated by vertical U channels. 

The timber arches become the main element in the creation of a dramatic internal space, with sleek geometries and dynamic perspectives, where the undulating roof is akin to the waves of the bodies of water surrounding the island. 

Mimicking the sand in Cebu’s shorelines when exposed to sun rays is the polished stone flooring with mother of pearl inserts. For departing passengers, there will be 48 check-in counters that are expandable to 72. True to MCIA’s concept as a “resort-themed airport,” they are designed to look like glowing lanterns with front rattan panels backed by LED lightings.  

“So this [new terminal] is allowing us to showcase the best of what the Philippines has to offer,” Harrison said.

To ensure accessibility and convenience, a two-level forecourt separates the arrival area from departure station. It is fully integrated with landside development.  

The Terminal 2 also has provisions for seven passenger boarding bridges that can be expanded to 12 boarding bridges serving wide and narrow body aircrafts. What’s more, it will be equipped with 12 escalators and 15 elevators facilitating the easy movement of passengers, especially for persons with disabilities.

A car parking facility will be built that can accommodate 550 cars and expandable to 750 cars when needed. There will also be a wide array of food and retail choices, including a mall, casino and a hotel.

“So for passengers coming in as tourists, Cebu is the ideal pop-up point to access not just the Central Visayas region, but also the rest of the Philippines,” he stressed. 

Upon its opening and full operations, MCIA Terminal 2 will service all international flights as Terminal 1, which then will be immediately renovated, is dedicated to domestic flights.

Under the flagship Public-Private Partnership Program of the previous Aquino administration, GMCAC bagged the contract for the P17.52-billion MCIA Passenger Terminal Building project and the concession to develop this aviation facility for 25 years. On top of this amount, the consortium paid an upfront premium of P17 billion to the government, bringing the total construction investment to P34 billion.

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Roderick L. Abad graduated from Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, with a degree course in Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication. He has 12 years of journalism experience, starting as a Special Features Writer in a major daily newspaper. In 2006, he moved to the BusinessMirror in the same capacity and, eventually, became a beat reporter. To his credit, he was a finalist in the 2011 Holcim Journalism Awards for Sustainable Construction and the 2013 Lasallian Scholarum Awards. He remains affiliated with the BusinessMirror as a contributor.