MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The answer to the perennial question — should the country’s main international gateway be in Manila or Clark — may be coming soon.
Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio “Jun” Abaya said the government is still studying 3 options with regards to the country’s airport strategy involving Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), the congested and physically limited airport in capital Manila, and Clark International Airport located about a hundred kilometers up north.
Speaking before members of the Makati Business Club on Thursday, April 25, Abaya said President Benigno Aquino III is leaning toward having a dual airport system.
“I think the President himself is now more open with a dual gateway system rather than a single gateway system but we need to present our numbers. We have to appear convincingly to him when we appear before him,” Abaya said in his speech.
The 3 options that will be presented to the President in May are the following:
- Shutdown NAIA and, possibly, sell it. This means the government will make Clark the country’s main gateway.
- Create a long-term plan for Clark and maximize NAIA. The option involves the possible closure of NAIA by 2025 and replace it with another airport located 30 minutes away from the NAIA’s present location.
- Dual airport system where NAIA and Clark will operate together until such time when a decision will be reached to replace NAIA.
“The only difference essentially between option 2 and option 3 is that option 3 is more conservative and will take more time because there is a delayed decision on a NAIA replacement,” Abaya explained.
Abaya added that for option 2 to work, a decision on the replacement for NAIA should be done now. He said airport consultants estimate that it takes 10 years to plan and commission an airport.
He said there are several locations being proposed to host the replacement airport for NAIA. These are:
- Sangley or another airport
- A reclaimed location on Laguna de Bay
- A reclaimed location on Manila Bay
“There are options that could fit the parameter of a convenient NAIA replacement down the road,” Abaya said.
“Honestly, we have not received any formal or informal proposal at the DOTC,” he stressed.
Dual airport strategy
The option of operating both Clark and NAIA involves a strategy that sends international air traffic to both airports, as well as feeder flights from or to domestic routes for passengers arriving from or departing for destinations abroad.
The most crucial ingridient in pursuing this dual airport plan, however, is a train system that connects them.
A “bullet train” project connecting Clark and Manila has a long way to go in terms of project approval and bidding. It is being mulled as an alternative to the Northrail project that was mired in legal, financial and technical issues between the Philippines and China, the rail project’s funder.
Under previous Transportation Secretaries Jose “Ping” de Jesus, the government had supported a strategy of transferring the main international aviation activities to Clark, which sits on a former US air force base and has opportunities for future expansion given the exponential growth in the airline industry. – with reports from Cai Ordinario/Rappler.com