Needed: Clearer airport policy
Something exciting is happening in the aviation sector that may finally result in the much-needed rehabilitation and modernization of the old Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia).
Seven of the country’s biggest names in business are teaming up to submit an unsolicited proposal to the Duterte administration to undertake that project.
This is, by far, the strongest message from the private sector on the urgent need to upgrade the Philippines’ busiest air gateway.
The seven are Alliance Globe Group Inc. of property tycoon Andrew Tan, Ayala Corp. of the Zobel family, Aboitiz Equity Ventures Inc. of the Aboitizes, Metro Pacific Investments Corp. of businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan, Filinvest Development Corp. of the Gotianun family, JG Summit Holdings Inc. of the Gokongwei clan, and LT Group of taipan Lucio Tan. JG Summit and LT Group own the country’s two biggest carriers, Cebu Pacific Air and Philippine Airlines.
The move is also an indication of the reluctance of big business to move away from Naia, which is now bursting at the seams servicing more than 42 million passengers a year, or 40 percent above its design capacity.
PAL has been lukewarm to the idea of moving away from Naia and, in fact, proposed last August a P20-billion annex building to Naia’s Terminal 2 to augment capacity. PAL has been operating mainly out of Terminal 2 of the Naia complex.
The problem is that the government remains undecided on what to do with the congestion at Naia.
Last year, the Department of Transportation put on hold a P75-billion public-private partnership project to develop and privatize the operations of Naia.
The government seems bent — so far — on expanding Clark International Airport in Pampanga — another alternative—without saying a word about the fate of Naia.
Clark has received both positive and negative feedback from stakeholders — although the main problem of its distance to the metropolis could be remedied by a high-speed railway from the airport all the way to Bonifacio Global City.
The latest unsolicited proposal is indeed a significant development, but could be delayed by the uncertainty in the aviation industry where government policy is either lacking or flipflopping.
Consider the various projects awaiting the government’s approval: San Miguel Corp.’s P700-billion proposal to build a new international airport in Bulacan province and the Belle-Solar Group’s mixed-use project in Sangley Point, Cavite.
These are being proposed to replace Naia as the premier international gateway.
Privatization has proven to be the correct path in addressing the congestion problem at the Naia. This is bolstered by the successful privatization of Mactan-Cebu International Airport, which is now the biggest privately run airport in the Philippines operated by Megawide Construction Corp. and partner GMR Infrastructure of India.
While the government hopes to replicate this model in Clark Airport, which it hopes to award to the private sector by March 2018, it must make a decision soon on what it wants to do with Naia.
The latest unsolicited proposal from the country’s biggest businessmen to modernize Naia may provide the government with an offer too good to be turned down.
In this case, it is our hope that it has learned a lesson from the long-delayed and controversial Terminal 3 of Naia, which was originally proposed to be undertaken by five of the country’s taipans during the term of President Fidel V. Ramos, only to be muddled by a corruption-charged Swiss challenge that gave the project instead to a Filipino-German partnership.
Suits and countersuits after the project’s cost ballooned delayed the project for years. Proper safeguards should therefore be in place if and when the Duterte administration decides to accept the unsolicited proposal from the seven conglomerates that now want to rehabilitate Naia.
But first, the government must set out a much clearer aviation policy, specifically on what it intends to happen to the Naia complex.
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