Dual Airport System Proposed, Clark as International Gateway

The Philippine government is concentrating its efforts on addressing the congestion issues at Ninoy Aquino International Airport. According to the Transportation and Communications Secretary, Jun Abaya, President Aquino and the Cabinet are considering designating Clark Airport as the main international gateway of the country.

clark international airport
Image Source: Skyscraper Forums
But given that such a declaration would take time and is easier said that done, the government has allocated P150 million pesos to make improvements to NAIA Terminal One. In addition, it intends to improve the terminal's electrical and water lines. Efforts are on going to fix Terminal Three so that it can be used to its full capacity. The government hopes that by bringing Terminal Three up to its full capacity that it will alleviate congestion issues at Terminal One.

The Department of Transportation and Communications will be proceeding ahead with its previously announced intention to move all small and non-commercial aircraft operations to Sangley Point while the Philippine Air Force will be transferred to Cagayan de Oro.

The expansion of Clark Airport's existing passenger terminal began on May 15, 2013 in an effort to raise capacity to over 4 million passengers. The airport is hoping to complete the expansion in September just in time to welcome the first direct flight from the Middle East which will be operated by Emirates. Without the expansion, the airport is only capable of handling around two million passengers per year. It is anticipated that passenger volumes at Clark will reach that figure of 2 million by the end of 2013. The airport finished the first quarter of 2013 with a total of nearly 409,000 passengers. It is important to note that this figure was achieved prior to the introduction of the new flights from the Middle East which will see large long-haul aircraft operated by both Emirates and Qatar Airways bringing in hundreds of passengers to the airport at a time.

Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation and Communications announced that it favours a dual gateway scheme to address congestion issues at NAIA. Under a dual gateway system, both Clark Airport and NAIA will be used as the main gateways to the Philippines even while a replacement for NAIA is prepared. However, in spite of the constant announcements from the government, no formal decisions have been made and a presentation is yet to be made to the President for a final decision.

"NAIA TERMINAL ONE" - Source: Wikimedia
According to Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya, the department will be ready to present the proposal to the President within the next two weeks. He added that the President is now open to a dual airport system for the country. Previously, the President had indicated a preference for a single gateway for the country which would have been Clark Airport.

The Department of Transportation and Communication had originally drafted three options that were to be presented to President Aquino. The first option was to transfer all flight operations to Clark and operate it as a single primary gateway for the country. The second option was to maintain Clark and NAIA while making preparations for a future replacement for NAIA. The third option was to support growth at Clark and maximize operations at NAIA until 2025 at which time the government would analyze if the system was effective and suitable for the country.

While Clark Airport does have the space to accommodate growth in air travel, even with a high-speed rail link, the travel time between Metro Manila and Clark exceeds an hour which would not appeal to the business community. As for NAIA, improvements and expansion are highly restricted as physical limitations exist as to how much the existing airport complex can grow. Given these scenarios, the DOTC will no longer be presenting the three options to President Aquino and will instead concentrate on highlighting the difference between the second and third option while developing more specifics on the dual-airport system proposal. Abaya says that the government is looking at maximizing NAIA until around 2025 as planning, construction, and moving to a new major airport could take around 10 years.

The goal is to find a suitable location that is within 20 to 30 minutes of the existing airport. Possible locations for a new airport include Bulacan, Taguig, Laguna, Sangley, and Naic in Cavite. But if a dual airport system is implemented, the government says  that it will not force airlines to transfer to Clark. Abaya believes that airlines will naturally flow to Clark given its position as a growing low-cost carrier hub and the overwhelming congestion at NAIA. Currently, less than 10 percent of airlines serving the Philippines fly out of Clark. The government recently announced that it had allocated money in its budget next year to fund a low-cost carrier terminal for Clark Airport.

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