MANILA, Philippines – JG Summit Holdings Inc. President and Chief Operating Officer Lance Gokongwei believes a rapid rail system is necessary for the Clark airport to be more viable and become the next main international gateway of the country.
Gokongwei, whose company owns low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific, said Clark is a main option for flying in and out of the Philippines, but it is far away from the capital Manila.
“It requires a rapid rail system because Clark is 100 kilometers away from the center of Manila,” he said in an interview with ANC on Wednesday, February 20.
“I know of no other capital airport that is 100 kilometers away from the city center and its not even connected by rail,” he added.
Gokongwei noted the distance dampens the airport’s appeal to business travelers. “If you don’t have the certainty of distance and time, you’re never gonna get business people to go to that airport…I can’t imagine CEOs of certain companies on the bus especially if they can’t tell if it’s a one-hour ride or 3-hour ride,” he said.
When asked about other transport options such as shuttle buses, Gokongwei was also pessimistic about their attractiveness to high-end travelers. “I can’t imagine CEOs of certain companies on the bus especially if they can’t tell if it’s a one-hour ride or 3-hour ride.”
Investors are urging the government to finally decide on a plan to develop the Clark airport, saying the delay has affected their businesses in the area.
Cebu Pacific is one of the airlines that operate in Clark.
A scandal-ridden rail project meant to cover the distance between Manila and Clark has been delayed for years due to legal, financial, governance and even geopolitics issues. The Northrail project, which was built and financed by Chinese contractors, has been the subject of various probes and cases filed.
His position goes against the sentiment of various central-Luzon groups pushing to make Clark airport the main gateway. They have countered that the distance is not relevant and called on the government to adopt a twin airport system wherein the Clark would co-exist with NAIA.
Cebu Pacific operates some of its domestic and international flights out of Clark, Iloilo and Cebu airports, but bulk of its traffic still come from Manila where it is the main locator at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA-3).
At the end of the day, it is not the choice of main gateway that matters, but the number of available choices, Gokongwei said. After all, the aviation industry in the Philippines is growing leaps and bounds.
“I don’t think it’s a ‘choose one or the other’ decision. Manila is one of the biggest cities in the world. We can handle two, if not 3 airports, easily. We can have Clark, Manila, and another airport if it can be built,” Gokongwei said, referring to another airport near Manila that diversified conglomerate San Miguel Corp. has proposed months ago.
He cited the different efforts of the government to decongest NAIA, which has a limited runway and terminal buildings that are already bursting at the seams.
“There are 10 to 15 discrete moves the government is doing, like the additional rapid exit taxiways,” he said, referring to efforts to maximize the use of the criss-crossing runway at NAIA.
While all these limitations and concerns are around, Gokongwei shared that the government’s goal of growing its tourist arrivals to 10 million in 2016 from the current 4.3 million is a “challenge.”
“It involves the work of everybody,” he said. – with reports from Christian Bautista/Rappler.com