Clark investors to gov’t: Make up your mind
MANILA, Philippines – Will Clark be developed as the Philippines’ next premier international gateway?
Locators inside the Clark Freeport and special economic zone want the Aquino administration to decide now, saying their businesses have suffered due to the delay.
“It comes down to lost opportunities. [Investors] want to see further improvement by the government rather than constant changing of minds,” Jeff Pradhan, former president of the Clark Investors and Locators Association said in a media briefing.
The government has long planned to develop the airport (Diosdado Macapagal International Airport) inside the former US military base as a major international gateway, next to the crowded Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila.
Companies banking on this promise set up investments in Clark.
Pradhan cited for instance Singapore Airlines and Hong Kong-based Metrojet Engineering Clark. Singapore Airlines through SIA Engineering tied up with Gokongwei-led Cebu Pacific in 2008 for a hangar and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility, and spent P1 billion in 2010 to establish a second hangar. Metrojet also put up a $40-million MRO facility to cater to corporate jets.
“They (government) have not made up their minds and that is the problem,” said Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) adviser Capt. Benjamin Solis.
Solis urged the government to act quickly on the airport as NAIA has exceeded capacity—both on its terminal and runway—by 40%.
Government began to waiver on its plan for Clark late 2012, saying there are a lot of conditions for it to be viable. One of them is the construction of a high-speed rail system that will connect Clark to Manila.
Clark is about 80 kilometers away from the capital. Metro passengers taking budget airline flights in Clark travel via buses or private cars that take the North Luzon expressway.
The China-funded NorthRail project, which was meant to speedily move passengers that distance, was dropped.
The project was negotiated under the Arroyo administration. It was suspended in March 2010 pending review due to alleged anomalies such as bloated costs.
In February 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the project was illegal because it did not go through bidding process.
The government tried to renegotiate the project, including costs and design, but it became uncertain following heightened territorial dispute between the Philippines and China over the South China Sea.
Even if the project was dropped, the Philippines is paying a portion of a Chinese loan worth $185 million until 2014 to avoid affecting its chances of getting investment grade status.
Solis however said distance between Clark and Manila should not be an issue as airports in other countries are located outside cities, away from central business districts.
“Distance is irrelevant, it is a flexible item. In other countries, all airports are far from the city. NAIA is an old airport in a large city with no other gateway and yet Clark is still not a viable option,” he lamented.
Solis said the government should speed up the development of the Pampanga airport by adopting a twin airport system wherein the Clark would co-exist with NAIA.
Passengers at the Clark airport are expected to hit 2.4 million each year starting 2013. The airport could only handle up to 1.2 million at end-2012, Transportation Undersecretary for planning Rene Limcaoco earlier said.
The Transportation and Communications department is assisting CIAC in its plan to construct a new terminal at the airport that will serve 15 million passengers a year.
Solis said CIAC would present the P6-billion project to the National Economic and Development Authority in March.
He said the terminal is crucial especially with the start of the Dubai-Clark operations of Emirates and AirAisa's ongoing expansion.
According to him, the proposed passenger terminal project could be offered under the Aquino administration’s Public-Private Partnership scheme because several private corporations are interested in the development.
Based on the land-use plan, he said about 30 hectares of the 2,400-hectare airport property could be used for commercial development. – Rappler.com