The Philippines can no longer ignore the deplorable conditions of the country’s premier airport, if it wants to improve its poor ranking in tourist arrivals in the region. Two tycoons have pressed the government to approve their separate proposals to build a new airport outside of the capital region. It’s now up to the government to select the better proposal and time is not on Manila’s side.
The International Air Transport Association early last year endorsed a new location for Manila’s international gateway because of the congestion at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
“Whether you need one airport, two airports or three airports, I think you have to build it somewhere. Obviously there’s no enough space around the current airports,” IATA regional director for airport, passenger, cargo and security in Asia-Pacific Vinoop Goel said.
“If you have to build a new airport, make sure that it’s big enough because from a passenger airline point of view, having multiple airports requires you to land in one airport and in some cases navigate through Manila traffic and take off from the other airports, which you don’t want,” he says.
A new and modern airport often creates a lasting impression on arriving tourists and arouses them ahead of their travel plan. Sadly, the Philippines has probably one of the worst airports in this side of the world, lagging behind its competitors in Asia.
Data on Philippine tourist arrivals reflect the sorry state of the country’s premier airport. The Philippines, according to latest available figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, ranked 14th or second to last in 2015 in terms of arrivals. The Philippines registered foreign tourist arrivals of 5.36 million in 2015, ahead of 15th and last-place Cambodia with 4.78 million. Philippine arrivals in 2016 hardly improved to 5.97 million tourists.
Other Asian countries have fared much better than the Philippines. Thailand drew 29.9 million foreign tourists, or just behind China in first place with 56.9 million. Hong Kong at third place lured 26.7 million, followed by Malaysia at 25.7 million. Indonesia was in eighth place with 10.4 million tourists, while Vietnam rounded the top 10 with 7.9 million.
IATA has urged the Philippines to build a new greenfield airport with sufficient capacity to meet Manila’s aviation needs that is situated no greater than 50 kilometers from the city center as a long-term solution. IATA projected annual passengers to reach 140 million by 2035, up from 60 million in 2014.
2 tycoons slug it out
Two Philippine conglomerates have offered to build IATA’s greenfield airport. All-Asia Resources and Reclamation Corp., a consortium led by tycoon Henry Sy Sr. and the family of Wilson Tieng, has pushed Sangley and Clark as the new international gateway airports.
All-Asia Resources says Sangley and Clark are strategically located to serve the northern and southern parts of Luzon. “Those in Metro Manila can choose which one is more convenient to them which will also help ease traffic,” ARRC vice chairman Edmund Lim said
All-Asia Resources proposed the Philippine Global Gateway project worth P1.3 trillion to decongest traffic in Metro Manila. It plans to build an international airport, seaport, economic zone and real estate components in Sangely Point, Cavite province, and proposes to reclaim 2,500 hectares at Sangley Point. The new airport would be designed to have a capacity of 90 million passengers.
San Miguel Corp., meanwhile, proposed a P700-billion ($14 billion) facility.
The conglomerate submitted a plan to the Department of Transportation with a provision for up to six runways in a 2,500-hectare property in Bulacan province, president Ramon Ang told Bloomberg. It will be built without any guarantee or a subsidy from the government, he said.
“We will finance everything, build everything by ourselves and take the risk,” Ang said. The government could sell the 600-hectare property where the current Manila airport complex is located for $20 billion and have the area converted into a new business district, he says.
An international airport in Sangley can be up and running in four to five years after the government gives a notice to proceed, All-Asia Resource counters.
“It will be built by our company in partnership with foreign partners without the need for a single cent from the government. We have already signed all the contracts to make this happen. We are ready but we need the government to give its nod,” Lim says.
Clark, he said, only needed to be upgraded and “perhaps should be the one whose operations and maintenance should be privatized,” referring to a government decision to bid out the operation and maintenance of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
The government must act with urgency in the the construction of a new airport. The Philippines is steadily losing out to its neighbors in Southeast Asia after neglecting airport development. By failing to draw enough foreign tourists, it also passing up the opportunity to directly create thousands of jobs.
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