June 15, 2019
IT BETTER BE RIGHT OR AIRPORT PROBLEM RISKS TURNING WORSE
IT is encouraging that the Department of Transportation (DoTr) is apparently moving with purpose to meet President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to relieve congestion at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
The immediate action being taken is the opening of Sangley Airport in Cavite City, targeted for November. What the DoTr has shared about the project so far, however, does not give us confidence at this time that the improvement to NAIA will not be bought at the cost of greater inconvenience to some airline passengers and air cargo customers.
The former Danilo Atienza air base is intended to be used for general aviation and commercial turboprop flights for passengers and cargo. The shift would free up space at NAIA’s terminal facilities, which are currently crowded beyond their capacity, leading to frequent flight delays.
In a progress update on Thursday, the DoTr said the necessary construction work on the former air base is a bit less than halfway completed. Work on the runway has already been finished, and construction of the passenger terminal, hangar facilities and drainage system is ongoing, it said. The DoTr also said that the country’s three main domestic airlines — Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Air Asia Philippines — “expressed their willingness and commitment” to support the government’s plan to utilize Sangley.
The progress being made on the airport itself sounds promising, but the DoTr so far has said very little about what is being done to efficiently connect the airport to the rest of the metropolitan area. This is a significant concern because of the unique geography of Sangley’s location, and not to forget, the subsequent impact of the additional traffic to and from the airport on the surrounding areas.
The airport is located on the Manila Bay shore of Cavite City, which is one of the most densely populated cities in the country due to its limited land area. To make matters even more challenging, there is only a single, almost continuously congested road connecting the city to the mainland at Kawit, Cavite. Traffic from Metro Manila will be channeled along this busy highway and then have to cross the crowded city.
The only solution to this problem that has been publicly divulged so far is the suggestion made recently by DoTr Secretary Arthur Tugade that ferries operating from the pier near Mall of Asia could shuttle passengers to and from Sangley in about half an hour. That also seems like a promising idea, but it is only a partial solution, and leaves many unanswered questions about exactly how viable the Sangley Airport project really is.
The priority in designing an airport is not so much the efficient movement of airplanes, but the efficient movement of people and goods. The Sangley Airport project may very well relieve NAIA of excess aircraft, but unless it provides a faster and more convenient alternative to NAIA’s overcrowding for passengers and air cargo customers who use those aircraft, it will be practically useless.
It may be that the DoTr has considered the problems of access to the new airport. There may be plans in place to provide adequate road access to the airport for freight operators and adequate terminal facilities – including road access, parking, and efficient transit connections – for the proposed passenger ferry link. If so, then the DoTr needs to share the information about those plans with the public.
If they are not yet in place, they need to be developed, and quickly. Every current airport customer would agree that decongesting NAIA is long overdue, and if done correctly, the Sangley Airport project will be a significant step in the right direction. But if it is a solution that does not offer a better experience, it will be worse than no solution at all.
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