Govt pushes back timetable for roll­out of San­g­ley Air­port

Business Mirror - - FRONT PAGE - By Lorenz S. Marasi­gan

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.

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