Lasting remedies for the Naia mess
The power outage and technical glitch that occurred at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) on New Year’s Day was an international embarrassment, as it stranded about 56,000 passengers and caused the diversion, delay, and cancellation of at least 361 flights from all over the world.
But even before this logistical nightmare, there were reports that Naia is 10 years behind in its modernization and upgrading efforts, and was ranked by luggage app Bounce as the worst airport for business class travelers among 38 global air gateways. Some sectors from previous administrations have pressed the need for the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines and the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to upgrade the airport’s facilities, but their concern remained unheeded until things were overtaken by the Jan. 1 airport debacle.
While the remedial proposals are awaiting action, doubts have been expressed over Naias future, given land expansion constraints in its current location in Pasay and Parañaque cities. For one, San Miguel Corp.’s (SMC) head Ramon Ang and DOTr Secretary Jaime Bautista have observed that the airport was better off being redeveloped into a profitable mixed-use property complex. Already, the peripheries of the airport are experiencing an accelerated increase in the number of commercial and residential buildings that can hamper the movement of planes around Naia. Experts have also pointed out the need for a coordinated development of multiple airport projects at the Naia, and in Bulacan, Sangley, and Clark.
The project, considered to be crucial in significantly decongesting Naia, is San Miguel Corp.’s P740-billion New Manila International Airport (NMIA) in Bulacan, with a design capacity of up to 100 million passengers annually, given its planned six parallel runways. According to Bautista, land development work in this “aerotropolis” is nearly 50 percent complete and is expected to be finished by the end of 2023. After this, actual civil works will start, with airport completion targeted in 2027.
The other advantages of NMIA over Naia is its open area with no obstructing structures, and its location farther from the Sierra Madre mountains. Needless to say, SMC’s power generation and technical capabilities will also ensure that no power outage and technical glitch will occur at the NMIA.
It has to be pointed out, however, that for the NMIA to function more efficiently, there is a need for President Marcos Jr. to approve posthaste House Bill No. 7575 that provides for the creation of the Bulacan Airport City Special Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (BACSEZFA) whose jurisdiction covers the NMIA, but which he vetoed for certain technical reasons. However, his objections have already been addressed by proponents of the bill headed by Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, through 14 item changes in the bill.
Astute observers have identified the real reason behind the current snag in the bill’s approval as the strong lobby of influential persons who feared that the Pampanga Clark Special Economic Zone’s locators might be pirated by the BACSEZFA. But this fear is baseless, as shown by the absence of competition from the neighboring Bataan and Subic economic zones south of Clark.
According to Ang, the corporation’s 2,500-hectare special economic zone (SEZ), where the NMIA is located, will generate around $200 billion annually in export revenues from potential investors across various sectors. This can even be guaranteed should the spacious facility be developed as the country’s Silicon Valley, with its high-technology locators. Furthermore, the SEZ can complement the airport logistical hub function of NMIA as a capacious seaport logistical hub that will carry products from Manila Bay at reasonable cost. The SEZ’s central location within the Asia-Pacific region will also make it an attractive distribution hub for multinational business locators.
Meliton Juanico is a licensed environmental planner and retired professor of geography at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
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