ONE would think we have had plenty of time to become accustomed to news about immature, greedy, or just plain stupid management decisions at the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), but the agency headed by the apparently untouchable Aquino favorite, Jose Angel Honrado, still has the ability to shock us.
Yesterday, we reported—as did a few other papers—that a feud was developing between the Airline Operators Council (AOC) and the MIAA over steps the latter is taking in reaction to what it claims are unpaid bills. Some of the delinquent accounts date back to the 1970s; most, according to an airport source, are for interest and penalties on past missed payments, and not actually for lease payments.
What the MIAA has done, and what the MIAA has said is its specific response to its unmet demands for payment of past-due accounts prior to accepting renewals of airlines’ long-term lease agreements, is to threaten to suspend the seasonal pass program for airline employees, and instead require a one-day pass system. Under the present arrangement, airline employees receive ‘seasonal’ security passes, which allow them unimpeded access to the terminals and other work areas. Because it is frustrated that old bills are not being paid by the airlines, the MIAA said it would cancel the ‘seasonal’ program, and instead require employees to secure day passes.
In other words, the MIAA intends to get to the airlines by punishing airline employees, making a tedious security process that now only has to be endured two or three times a year a daily requirement. The potential disruption this will cause to airline operations—and consequently, to the operations of the entire airport—is frankly frightening and completely unacceptable, as the AOC’s legal team pointed out in painfully clear terms in a letter of protest to MIAA chief Honrado.
The members of the AOC—the group comprises about 30 airlines —are questioning the validity of many, if not all, of the charges being levied by the airport. The letter from the group’s legal team mentioned this, of course, and even if we give the MIAA the benefit of the doubt that the past-due payments are legitimately demandable, it is nevertheless unfair of the MIAA to take any punitive action while discussions to resolve the delinquent payments are ongoing, which they indeed still are, according to several airlines involved in the dispute.
A bigger problem is the complete, self-destructive irrelevance of the particular punitive action the MIAA wants to take. Let’s assume for the moment—extremely generous assumption though it may be—that the MIAA is completely right in demanding the past-due payments, that its assertion that the airlines are stalling or otherwise being uncooperative is an accurate assessment, and that the airport management has, indeed, extended more than enough time for the dispute to be resolved. In that case, the MIAA may be justified in taking stronger steps to compel the airlines to comply.
But choosing a punitive measure that violates the airport’s own mandate to ensure
passenger safety and comfort and provide for the safe and efficient handling of aircraft, baggage and freight is not justified, and is, in fact, a case of the MIAA cutting off its own nose to spite its face. The consequences of the MIAA’s idea to hinder operations will fall largely on passengers who, if the MIAA makes good on the threat, can look forward to severe congestion and delays added to the trying experience the airport already is for most travelers.
Once that happens, people who still have an option not to subject themselves to the nightmare—foreign tourists and business travelers, tour operators, event planners—are not going to concern themselves with the niceties of an accounting dispute, but rather the sad fact that Manila’s only airport of any consequence is AGAIN a mess that should be avoided at all costs.
That’s a reputation that is completely unacceptable if it happens once; coming as it does when such dubious attention-grabbers like the bullet-planting scam, recklessly overcharging taxi services, routine flight delays from overcrowding, and NAIA’s long reign as the “world’s worst airport” are still fresh in everyone’s minds, it is simply beyond the pale. While any legitimate arrears incurred by the airlines must, of course, be satisfied as quickly as possible, making a childish cheap shot to try to bully them into doing so is childish and counterproductive.