Govt pushes back timetable for rollout of Sangley Airport
IT looks like the $10-billion Sangley Airport, originally seen pursued under President Aquino, will be denied the pleasure of entertaining interested bidders under a new timetable bared by Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio A. Abaya. He acknowledged in a spot interview the multibillion-dollar project’s “full feasibility study” will only materialize a year-and-ahalf from now, or well beyond the President’s term and inconsistent with a self-declared goal to keep the ball rolling before the Chief Executive leaves office.
Abaya acknowledged he has yet to receive the feasibility study from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) on the multibillion- dollar airport project seen to replace the Ninoy Aquino International Airport ( Naia), making it impossible for the government to meet its target of opening the project to bidders before the Aquino administration ends.
“Jica is finishing up the feasibility study and we hope to receive that within the first quarter. Then we will move to the next phase, which is the conduct of a full feasibility study,” Abaya said.
That full feasibility study, he said, will take another 18 months, meaning the government’s undisclosed timetable for the project’s implementation would also be pushed back by more than half a year.
Upon completion, the winning bid will still be scrutinized by the Investments Coordination Com- mittee and the National Economic and Development Authority, or the Neda Board.
“In 18 months we can determine the location, and the economic rate of return, the viability of the project, it’ll be complete—all that the Neda Board will require should be tucked in there,” Abaya said.
The government, apparently, is not in a hurry despite the worsening aircraft and passenger congestion at the Naia.
Last year saw Naia’s four terminals push past their maximum rated capacity for the first time, as more and more international and domestic flights were launched despite the lack of capacity-building projects at the air hub.
Data collected by the Manila International Airport Authority (Miaa) show the airport coping with the influx of 36.68 million passengers last year, 7 percent higher than only 34.09 million passengers the year prior.
Broken down, the airport handled 19.51 million domestic passengers last year—around 2 million higher than the 17.17 million it served in 2014. International passenger count was basically flat.
“For something as big as $10 billion or $15 billion, you have to do it right. You cant proceed without getting into every detail,” Abaya said. “We are looking at a 10-year period, the feasibility study is still within the 2025 schedule.”
Under the draft pre- feasibility study submitted by Jica, the airport should be commercially operational by 2025, or some 10 years from now.
The study pinpointed two Cavite-based locations, called Sangley 1A and 1B. As to the official location that will be endorsed by Jica, the transport chief can only speculate.
Wherever Sangley Airport will be located, Abaya will endorse the project to the Neda Board.
Sangley 1A is in the same site as the naval station in Cavite. The other is located near the Central Manila Bay, in between the military base and a reclaimed area.
The first option will cost both the government and a private- sector partner less than the second choice. The first one only costs $10 billion, while the other one is pegged at around $13 billion.
The future airport will boast of four runways that can handle 700,000 aircraft movements a year, capable of servicing 130 million passengers annually.
The deal was seen implemented under the government’s key infrastructure program alongside funding from official development assistance. But for aviation expert Avelino L. Zapanta, a former president of two local airlines, the solution to the mess at the main international gateway should also involve short- term goals.
“Sangley is a long- term solution, there’s no problem with that,” he said. “It will take decades to be constructed and the government should see that our problem is right here and now. We need an immediate answer to the congestion.”
He referred to the Naia as a “mess.” “What I recommend is for us to pick the low-hanging fruits— meaning, we have to declare Clark International Airport as the main international gateway. This will free up Manila of at least a third of its flights,” Zapanta said.
Once this was done, the operations of several airlines will then be moved to Clark.
“That is the only way to virtually decongest Manila overnight,” he said. “When they do that, in the next two years, Manila will slowly be decongested.”
Philippine Airlines President Jaime J. Bautista has said that given the amount of time that the government needs to construct a new airport, it is but wiser to consider Clark first before Sangley.
“Sangley is a good plan. But it will take time, right? It will take about 10 to 15 years to be completed. In the meantime, let’s fix Clark first,” he said.
Philippines AirAsia President Joy D. Caneba also said there is no reason for the government not to develop both airports at once.
“Clark is already a viable airport. Let’s develop this first, but there is no reason for us to develop only one or two major airports, as the demand for air travel has grown exponentially and the growth is forecast to continue with increasing low- cost airline operations and the expanding middle class, and the Philippines is losing opportunities if we do not start building, expanding and improving airports now,” she said.