Why NAIA shouldn't be closed down

by Coco Alcuaz, ANC

Posted at Jun 25 2014 06:13 PM | Updated as of Jun 26 2014 06:48 AM

MANILA, Philippines - A Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) consultant said the government should improve the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), and make Sangley the second airport of Metro Manila and surrounding areas.

This contradicts a study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which is premised on closing NAIA.

Ben Lao, who has helped plan airports around the world, said many big cities have two or more airports and NAIA should be one of the Manila area's airports.

In an interview on ANC's Inside Business, Lao said it would be a waste to convert an already operating airport to another property development.

"You have to look at airports in the context of a metropolitan area. Great cities in the world with more than 10 million population have more the one airport because of the demand... What we need is NAIA in conjunction with a new airport... to accomodate the demand for the next 50 years or more," he said.

"We should keep the airport there because it's already operating, managing and accommodating 33 million passengers a year, with its limited assets, real estate and it has done quite well considering," he added.

The DOTC said it has not decided if and when the government will close NAIA.

"The decision to close down NAIA will be based on traffic growth and market forces," the DOTC said.

Lao said NAIA just needs an additional runway, like the one proposed by San Miguel and PAL president Ramon Ang, the technology to increase take offs and landings, and improvements in the terminals.

He said the new runway will need political will because it involves expropriating some land in Moonwalk and Multinational villages in Paranaque.

But the DOTC said it's not that simple since there are safety and airspace issues to consider.

"The development of a new runway at NAIA is currently being evaluated because there are issues in the proposal, such as the displacement of hundreds of families, safety issues, and an already restricted airspace," the DOTC said.

The department did not say whether it considered this before Ang publicized it and whether it's already hired experts to study the issues.

"The procurement process for the NAIA Runways Optimization project was started on 14 November 2013. Most bidders, however, were unable to comply with the legal requirements under the procurement law which is why we had to hold subsequent biddings," the DOTC said.

The government agrees that new technology can increase takeoffs and landings. In fact, then DOTC Secretary Mar Roxas was discussing this before he left the department in 2012.

But the DOTC said it only started to try to hire experts on this in November last year.

Terminal improvements include redesigning how people flow through them and adding trains that will make it easier for passengers to make their connecting flights.

"I think the authorities should engage the airlines in this process and make them a partner because there's a symbiotic relationship between the airlines and airport authorities to begin with. To see what can be done and what can be done to maximize the efficiency, flow, and comfort level of the passengers," Lao said.

The architect said such improvements can help NAIA serve Metro Manila and surrounding provinces for the next 20 years.

But Lao said it would help if the government already starts using and investing in Sangley as the area's second airport.

"While we maximize NAIA where we improve the comfort level, the efficiency and basically clear out the clutter at NAIA, we should concurrently plan a new airport that would take care of traffic demand in the future... That could be sangley because it has an established flight path, and runway operations," he said.

He said reclamation could easily bring Sangley to four runways in the decades ahead.

The JICA study, released by the DOTC over a week ago, said Sangley was the best site for a so-called new NAIA, over seven other sites in Luzon, Manila Bay or Laguna Lake.

Sangley got the highest rating in 8 out of the 9 criteria. The closest competitor was a Laguna Lake reclamation proposal.

Manila Bay, similar to one of Ang's proposals, ranked third on the JICA study.