EFFORTS to improve air travel in the Philippines appear to be moving at a slow pace with regard to airport development. Travelers are likely to continue facing flight delays and cancellations as much-touted facilities have yet to materialize.
Former Philippine Airlines (PAL) president Avelino Zapanta told The Manila Times that infrastructure was still inadequate, leading to lost opportunities with respect to the goal of becoming «once again the hub of aviation in the region we were enjoying up until the early 1980s.
Piper Chaucer Tan of Philstocks Financial Inc., meanwhile, said more investments are needed to bolster economic growth and “make the [Philippines] an attractive place not just for tourists but also for business”.
Industry players such as Cebu Air Inc., PAL Holdings Inc., and Megawide Construction Corp., Tan said, would benefit once airport projects are delivered. This may result in rise of property prices and hotel occupancy rates. It can also create more jobs as well.
The Department of Transportation (DoTr) has been pushing for more gateways outside Metro Manila to ease congestion at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), which has seen a spike in arrivals and flights.
The Transportation department claims 64 out of 197 airport projects have been finished, while 133 are ongoing. Among the notable projects said to have been completed are the Bohol-Panglao International Airport, Mactan Cebu International Airport, Puerto Princesa International Airport, Marinduque Airport, and Ormoc Airport.
The completion rate for the Clark International Airport’s new passenger terminal, meanwhile, stood at 75.55 percent as of July with completion targeted for July 2020. The Bicol International Airport is 58.86 percent complete as of end-July and is expected to be done in 2021.
Zapanta insists, however, that “the airport project [implementation] of government is rather slow and not commensurate with the potential of the country for air travel both domestically and internationally,” claiming that many remain “in limbo.”
“Since 2010 when the low-cost carriers virtually doubled the flight frequencies of the country and foreign airlines added up to the surging demand, the insufficiency of airport facilities has been exposed but not much has been accomplished to address the congestion,” he said.
“NAIA’s capacity is hopelessly short of the demand and yet has no room for expansion. Bulacan airport is a medium- to long-term project which cannot of help for the present shortage of airport facilities,” Zapanta continued.
The P734-billion New Manila International Airport of San Miguel Corp. in Bulacan is scheduled to start construction before year ends. It will take four to six years, however, before it becomes operational and relieve congestion at NAIA.
Meanwhile, plans to bolster NAIA’s capacity hit a snag after DoTr mandated that it be patterned after the Clark International Airport deal in a bid to standardize unsolicited proposals. Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia has said the National Economic and Development Authority would review the revised proposal.
For the Sangley Point Airport project, the provincial government of Cavite and Sangley Airport Infrastructure Group, Inc. have expressed interest to lead the development. While the DoTr wants to prioritize its transaction, the financial and economic models presented have come under question.
Zapanta said the government must also bank on existing gateways in other regions for international flights. “It will be a big help if the Albay, Bohol, Puerto [Princesa], Kalibo and Lal-lo airports can be completed to serve as mini-gateways for international travel, thus helping to decongest NAIA.”
“Some regional airports in the PPP (public-private partnership) might get done [during Duterte’s term] but they are secondary or municipal airports with low capacity,” he added.
Transportation Undersecretary Ruben Reinoso rejected Zapanta’s claims, saying: “We have made significant improvements, including night rating of most domestic airports given available resources and intend to privatize [the operation and maintenance of] airports viable from [a] private sector viewpoint,”
“We’re doing improvements at Sangley airport and transfer general aviation from NAIA before the end of the year as part of government’s efforts to address NAIA congestion,” he added.
Admitting the possibility that the administration would be able to deliver major airport projects, Philstocks’ Tan said he still remained bullish that these would lay a firm foundation for further developments.
“[The] recent budget impasse and right of way issues [have delayed] the projects, not just the airports but [the entire infrastructure program] as a whole. We think the Duterte [administration] will not finish all of the projects by 2022 but we think that all of these blueprints will come into play and the end result will benefit the Filipino people and alleviate poverty incidence,” Tan said.