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Still up in the air

Let me quote a text message from a friend last Friday:

“Hi Peter. Was supposed to arrive with CX from Hong Kong at [the Ninoy Aquino International Airport] at 4:45. Plane was delayed circling above Naia for 40 minutes, 12 planes ahead of us in landing sequence! This country is coming to a standstill soon! Meanwhile no decision being made on the new airport which takes at least 7 years to build. Then we had a huge traffic jam right outside Naia that took us 30 minutes extra to get through. Then on the upper portion of the Skyway there must have been a traffic jam of 3 km Southbound for the pleasure of paying the toll. Northbound towards Makati there was also a jam of at least 1 km. This ‘new’ part of the Skyway is seriously underdesigned!!!

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Delay on Skyway because of that at least 30 minutes. Now on Zapote Road is another jam. Shortly this country will come to a complete standstill. Maybe some food for your column. Enjoy the weekend.”

Food it certainly is, but will the government eat it? No, based on its historical performance. When will the government realize that the people can’t eat plans and that they need action? And it’s way, way past the time for action.

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So let’s start with something simple and essentially costless: discipline. No stopping anywhere for anything, not even for 10 seconds on the roads surrounding Naia. Traffic aides by the dozen to enforce smooth flow.

Something else, also pretty simple: Relocate all general and military aviation to Sangley Point. That will reduce the flight arrivals and departures by at least 14 percent. You may no longer have to follow 12 other commercial aircraft just to land.

And to help it even more, build a second runway. That, according to the news on Monday, is to be done. Let’s hope it is, and is not just another false alarm. Also announced was raising the number of takeoffs and arrivals from 40 to 60 per hour through improved management. These are good moves. Let’s hope they happen really quickly.

As for those homeowners who hold legitimate title to the properties that the government will need, the government should pay 150 percent of market value to compensate for the forced dislocation. It’s cheap, compared to the cost of (litigious) delays that will be inevitable, and it’s a fair thing to do.

It must be a two-phase process. The first phase is immediate action, such as those just mentioned, to solve the problem. Visitors will not say: “This is such a lousy airport, but I don’t mind because there are plans to build (or should I say, talk of plans to build) a new, wonderful one, so I’ll invest now and put up with years of inconvenience, cost and dislocation because the future’s going to be so much better.”

Like hell they will. What they will really say is: “I’m not building in this crummy place, I’ll lose my shirt on the rotten logistics alone. I’ll go where I can be competitive.”

Vietnam would be a good choice. In just four years Vietnam built its Phu Quoc International Airport and is already constructing the second terminal of its Noi Bai International Airport, due for completion in the fourth quarter of this year.

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Maybe they’ll go to Malaysia, as the government acts there. Malaysia completed the construction of its new Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 in less than four years. Or maybe they’ll go to Indonesia. The Indonesian government completed the construction of the Kualanamu International Airport in roughly seven years.

Be ashamed, Philippine government, be very ashamed. There is no excuse for this. That’s not only what they’ll say, it’s what they’re doing. The investment numbers tell you that.

Last year Indonesia got $29 billion in foreign direct investment, and Malaysia $12 billion, compared to the dismal $3.2 billion that came here (I removed $688 million of Coca-Cola Mexico buying the US-owned shares of Coca-Cola Philippines as this created no new business, no new jobs).

What we have today is a lousy airport (one of the world’s worst, remember?) where you can’t move airfreight and people efficiently as well as a thoughtless truck ban under which you can’t move sea freight at all (I have friends with containers sitting for weeks). And you want to invest in the Philippines? Businessmen and tourists want alleviating action NOW.

As to the longer term, another airport is essential; it’s just a question of where it should be. Well, that question has been sitting on the President’s desk since the 1990s. The President’s desk, because in this strictly hierarchical  society, he or she is the only one who can make the decisions, the only one who can force the transportation department to come up with the recommendations. We can’t wait another 10 years (yes, 10 years is the real reality) to decide where to put another airport, and then build it.

For the longest time, it was assumed that Clark would be it, but it was never finalized, never even got beyond the dream. Now it could be Sangley, or Clark, or the bay area covering Parañaque-Las Piñas, or a much expanded Naia, or wherever. Who knows? Twenty years and we aren’t even on square one as to where to put it. It’s pathetic.

So, Mr. President, you be that one to cut the Gordian knot, and just decide. It really doesn’t matter which site is chosen as they all have advantages and disadvantages. Whatever the differences, they’re much less than the cost of not having a new airport at all. Any one of those locations will work if the effort is put into it. Toss a coin, choose one. Then make it work. Forget the detailed plans, stop looking to save pennies, act and earn dollars.

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TAGS: Clark, Coca-Cola Philippines, Foreign Direct Investment, Kualanamu International Airport, Metro Manila traffic, ninoy Aquino international airport, Parañaque-Las Piñas, Sangley Point, traffic, Traffic Aides
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