As he apologized for the disruption, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista, who was formerly president of Philippine Airlines, lamented the outdated air traffic control equipment at the country’s premier airport that, he said, was about 10 years behind the best-in-class system being used in Singapore, and should be upgraded immediately. He also noted the lack of a backup system.
The current system, procured in 2010, was put into operations in 2018 at a cost of ₱13 billion borrowed from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). While the equipment is still serviceable, Secretary Bautista says there is need to modernize the system to keep abreast of technological developments and enhance passenger safety. It will be recalled that when he assumed office, he said that it shall be the Marcos administration’s goal to elevate Philippine transportation to world-class standards.
Could this be achieved within the next five and a half years?
We note that while the Manila Bulletin’s banner headline was on the New Year’s Day massive flight suspension, our business section’s lead story was on the Department of Transportation’s plan — in cooperation with the Asian Development Bank — to auction off the rehabilitation of the NAIA.
Initiated during the Duterte administration, this plan failed to materialize.
The NAIA Consortium composed of Aboitiz InfraCapital Inc., AC Infrastructure Holdings Corp., Alliance Global Group Inc., Asia’s Emerging Dragons Corp., Filinvest Development Corp. and JG Summit Holdings, Inc. proposed to rehabilitate the NAIA for P102 billion. However, the project did not prosper as the consortium was not confident about its financing. The builders of the Mactan International Airport in Cebu, Megawide Construction Corp. and India-based GMR Construction Ltd. Consortium submitted a $3 billion proposal, but the government revoked the original proponent status it had previously conferred on the consortium.
The immediate upgrading of its air traffic control management system — and the improvement of the NAIA through its rehabilitation — are both urgently needed to enable the country to keep pace with its ASEAN neighbors.
Singapore’s Changi Airport is regarded as one of the world’s best airports. Bangkok opened the Suvarnabhumi International Airport to complement the services of the Don Muang airport. Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta international airport completed its third terminal building and railway link system in 2016. Malaysia is focusing its efforts at leveling up “to a fully integrated digital ecosystem that provides a seamless passenger journey with the use of business intelligence and the collection of big data.”
Certainly, the government does not wish to entertain the possibility of another New Year’s Day breakdown that would be a source of massive inconvenience — and would do what is needed to install a reliable, failsafe system to preclude its recurrence.
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