NAIA-1: 'Worst airport' but awash with cash?

By David Dizon,

Posted at Oct 20 2011 02:42 PM | Updated as of Oct 21 2011 11:00 PM

Where do P8.5 billion in terminal fees go, asks tourism stakeholder

MANILA, Philippines - A non-government organization on Thursday revealed the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) earns P8.5 billion in cash from terminal fees every year, which is more than enough to renovate the 30-year-old airport and redeem it from the tag of being "the worst airport in the world."

Speaking on ANC's "Headstart," Robert Lim Joseph, chairman of the Tourism Educators and Movers of the Philippines (TEAM Philippines), said he does not believe there is no money to renovate the NAIA Terminal 1 and make it truly world-class.

"Airports are always profitable. There is so much money here. That is why the NAIA 3 was built. They wanted to make it private. Ang problema lang sa NAIA 3 in-overprice nila...There were too many kickbacks," he said.

Joseph said the airport collects P750 in terminal fees per passenger, or an average yearly total of P8.5 billion in cash from the 10.5 million passengers that passed through NAIA last year. This does not include earnings from the concessionaires, the airlines and even the parking lot, which all bring big money to NAIA.

He said the airport was earning so much money that it even offered to finance the construction of the airport in Bohol.

"This was during the time of [former President] Arroyo and it was approved but they found out hindi pala pwede gawin yun because part of the funds have to go to the national government. Also, they are a civilian authority. They are not legally bound to do so," he said.

Joseph said the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) should consider including the terminal fees in the prices of the tickets so that passengers do not have to fall in line to pay for it. He said airlines pay the terminal fees to the airport based on the flight manifests.

"We are the only airport in the world charging terminal fee up front. All airports charge terminal fees but it is included in the ticket," he said.

He also called for an audit of the terminal fees to determine where the money is going.

"The big question is - where do the terminal fees go? It is nice to have it audited. Dapat ma-audit yan," he said.

A travel website, Guide to Sleeping in Airports, earlier ranked the NAIA as the "world's worst airport" due to poor facilities, bribery and security concerns.

“Bribery and theft exists. Airport taxes are collected, but the money does not seem to go towards the betterment of the airport. Document holders have been told their papers are not correct, but a fee of x amount should clear up the matter,” the website noted.

MIAA General Manager Jose Angel Honrado said he would accept the travel website review as a challenge but noted that some of the criticism were unfair. He denied that airport rest rooms had no toilet paper or running water while staff accused of extortion have been removed.

Experience of travel

In the interview, Joseph urged the Department of Tourism and the national government to review various studies done on how to improve the country's international gateways.

He said one area that airport authorities should concentrate on is the experience of travel.

"To stop being the worst, let's start with being honest. There is a plan. Then commit to the plan. There has to be efficiency. It doesn't matter if it's old. You can change the carpets and the aircon...Dapat mabango hindi yung amoy carpet," he said.

He said at the NAIA, there should be interpreters that help foreigners who do not necessarily know how to speak in English.

Another proposal is to set up check-in counters in Cubao and Makati so that passengers do not have to line up at the airport.

Joseph also proposed improving connectivity between NAIA Terminals 1, 2 and 3 by setting up an escalator or a small train that moves through the terminals. He also proposed an escalator that would link to the Philippine village hotels.

He said connecting the terminals would not even take long. "One year is too long, just 6 months is enough."

He said airport authorities should also help connect the NAIA with the Manila Domestic Airport.

"How do you connect NAIA to Domestic? Do you go out and cross where all the traffic and everything? I said this is anarchy. I raised it up with the Department of Tourism and [Metro Manila Development Authority] because it doesn't cost much. It just needs good governance," he said.

Good coffee

Joseph said airport officials should consider expanding into the parking area so that there is more space for travelers. He also urged a review of the Duty Free shop outside the airport. 

"Tignan mo din itong Duty Free. Baka naman masyado malaki itong Duty Free. Kasi ang kailangan mo dito efficiency," he said.

Joseph said the convenience of getting their luggage is important to travelers. "You don't stay 1 hour for your luggage. Also, we are forced to get porters because our conveyor belt is small and there are so many people," he said.

He said even the lack of quality restaurants in the airport is telling.

"If you want good coffee, you don't get BS coffee. Somebody mentioned they just wanted good food, but there are no quality [food]...People are paying naman," he said.

Joseph said improving the airport needs out-of-the-box thinking and not just patchwork renovations.

"We need people who are developing with a long-term plan. Hindi pwede yung pa-patchi patchi," he said.