The Philippines’ premiere gateway may soon fade into obsolescence unless something is done quickly to solve all the challenges besetting the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
From congestion to technical malfunctions, this central piece of our national infrastructure seems to have it all, with everything coming to a head during its infamous power outage—of all times—in the New Year, stranding tens of thousands of tourists and kababayans for almost nine hours.
NAIA has failed to play catch-up with its rivals in this part of the world after years of neglect and underinvestment. Worse, with the pandemic nearly over and international travel strongly bouncing back, NAIA is poorly positioned to meet increasing passenger demand with sufficient levels of service. The airport, thus, is in no shape to assure the health and safety of passengers, and employees as well.
The Philippines in the month of April this year, according to the Manila International Airport Authority, posted the highest passenger volume and flight movement in a single month since the COVID-19 pandemic, with NAIA registering over 3.6 million passengers, up 50 percent year-on-year. The Philippine tourism sector is expected to book 55 million passengers by 2028, clearly a logistics nightmare if no immediate fixes are are done with our airports.
Rival airports in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, China, Japan and Korea are expected to beef up their facilities amid the surge in foreign travel. In contrast, our main airport could become a handicap to our tourism industry and economic ambitions, especially when there is no alternative primary gateway for the rest of this decade. Clearly, we need a comprehensive solution for NAIA now. Real and ready solutions offered by trusted groups should be a strong and primary consideration.
The unsolicited proposal submitted by the Manila International Airport Consortium (MIAC) offers the first concrete and immediate solution to seeing the long overdue upgrade finally begin.
Six of the country’s biggest conglomerates—Aboitiz InfraCapital Inc., AC Infrastructure Holdings Corp., Asia’s Emerging Dragon Corp., Alliance Global-Infracorp Development Inc., Filinvest Development Corp. and JG Summit Infrastructure Holdings Corporation—have pledged their financial muscle to see the project through.
The consortium members, along with US-based Global Infrastructure Partners—one of the leading infrastructure investors and airport operators in the world—are firmly established local and international players in infrastructure development, with technical expertise to manage long-term proposals of this nature.
The consortium offered to rehabilitate and modernize NAIA at a cost of at least P100 billion (US$1.8 billion) with no required subsidies and guarantees, meaning no taxpayers’ money will be involved in the upgrade.
The proposal is straightforward. The government is set to benefit as the arrangement entails substantial proceeds and investment into the airport immediately, including an upfront payment to the national government as well as investments in new facilities and technology. The consortium assured NAIA would have the ability to serve up to 70 million passengers a year efficiently, or more than double its current capacity.
With the tourism sector bouncing back and well on its way to recovery, time is of the essence in order to create more job opportunities and expand the economy. The Philippines, according to the Department of Tourism, logged a revenue of P1.784 trillion in 2022 from both international and domestic travel. The DOT says domestic travel market will experience 100-percent full recovery this year and that the country is on track to reach the 4.8 million 2023 target after logging over 1.87 million visitor arrivals as of May.
Can the Philippines catch up? The world’s hunger for flight can only be satisfied if the overall travel experience ticks off all the essential boxes—it should be safe and secure, comforting, convenient and punctual. This is where Philippine falls short, spelling dire consequences not only for our tourism industry but also for our broader economic prospects as trade and investments gear up in the long post-pandemic recovery ahead.
The immediate improvement of NAIA as proposed by MIAC at no cost to the government offers an immediate win-win-win for the Filipino people—something we have long been hoping to happen for our beleaguered but still beloved airport.
This ready solution to NAIA’s woes should be strongly considered by the government as its first priority for the airport.