Philippine Airlines is now studying the possibility of transferring its turbo-prop flights to Clark International Airport, following a request from the Philippine government to consider the idea of transforming Clark International Airport into a hub for domestic flights in another effort to decongest Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila.
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
Earlier this month, President Rodrigo Duterte asked Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade to evaluate the concept of using Clark International Airport as a domestic flight hub. According to Jaime Bautista, CEO of Philippine Airlines, the national flag carrier is considering the idea to prevent further frustration for passengers.
"We are working on it," said Bautista. "The reason why the government wants us to move some flights to Clark is because we want to decongest Manila to prevent inconvenience to the passengers." However, Bautista reaffirmed that not all domestic flights would be transferred and that the airline still needs to study the proposal further to assess the impact on passengers and operating costs before making any decisions.
"We will work with them," said Bautista. "We will present to them our position." However, Bautista added that the Philippine government needs to provide additional infrastructure prior to shifting additional flight operations to Clark. But Philippine Airlines is not the only carrier that has been asked to transfer flights. Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade told reporters that his agency plans to ask all airlines to transfer their turbo-prop flights to Clark as the government works to decongest NAIA.
PAL is currently eyeing to acquire new turbo-prop aircraft next year to replace its existing fleet of ageing regional aircraft. The company plans to make a purchase in 2017 or 2018. Philippine Airlines currently operates a fleet of nine Bombardier turbo-prop aircraft.
According to the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila is expected to exceed its maximum handling capacity this year, when the airport is estimated to serve 37.78 million passengers. However, the airport was only built to handle a capacity of 35 million passengers annually.
In response to Bautista's call for additional infrastructure at Clark prior to transferring flights, President Duterte added that the government will study the possibility of enhancing road or rail access to the airport in Pampanga to help facilitate the transfer of domestic flights.
The President indicated that the use of Clark for domestic flights is only intended as a short-term measure, while the government studies construction of a brand new airport near the existing Ninoy Aquino International Airport. "I don't know if we have the money to build an airport in Sangley," said Duterte. "If investors will come in, then go but for the meantime, we have to remedy the overcrowded sky of NAIA."
The President himself described his own experience of air traffic congestion at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, when the commercial flight he was travelling aboard nearly ran out of fuel while waiting for its turn to land in Manila. "We have been turning around and we are in danger of running out of fuel," said Duterte. "I think it's only good for 17 minutes. Mabuti na lang pina-landing kami. I don't want special treatment."
President Duterte recently reaffirmed his solidarity with the Philippine travelling public shunning any special treatment and directing his cabinet to reject any special treatment. "I want this stopped. We should not be treated different from the other suffering Filipino passengers," said Duterte. "We should treat ourselves just like any other Filipino travelling."
Duterte added that he intends to take ordinary commercial flights and transfer the aviation assets of the Philippine President over to the military. "Akala siguro nila bibili ako. Kasi sabi ko 'yung lahat ng [planes] I am turning it over to the military pati 'yung mga assets ng Pangulo. Gawin na natin ospital 'yan. Put it to good use rather than allow it to rust to death," stated Duterte.
Meanwhile, the government plans to act on a previous recommendation to remove all cargo and private aircraft from Ninoy Aquino International Airport in a further effort to decongest the airport. According to Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, they will be transferred to Sangley Point in Cavite, Laguna Lake, or Fernando Air Base. Tugade's Department of Transportation plans to issue notice to general aviation operators within his first 100 days in office.