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Aquino apologizes over 'world's worst airport'

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – President Benigno Aquino publicly apologized on Wednesday, April 16, for failures in air conditioning at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). It was already named by an online travel guide as the world's worst.

The fresh debacle at the NAIA Terminal 1, used by foreign airlines, came as millions of Filipinos begin travelling for the Easter holidays during one of the hottest months of the year.

"We ask for understanding and patience but the processes in government are really strict," he said, adding that the procurement process in government takes at least 4 months.

The President was responding to questions on the problem. He gave an assurance that new units are on the way.

Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya also issued a separate apology to passengers at the NAIA Terminal 1 for the inadequate airconditioning in the facility.

"We sincerely apologize to the public for the warm temperature at NAIA T1. We understand how inconvenient it is to endure these conditions inside the airport's facilities, especially during this peak season," Abaya said.

The Cabinet official explained that the warm temperature in NAIA-1 was due to the ongoing P1.3-billion rehabilitation of the airport.

Abaya said the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) had to shut off some air handling units (AHUs) to keep dust and particles from being sucked into the airconditioning system.

"While the airconditioning system is functioning, temperature is affected by rehabilitation works. We appeal to you to kindly bear with us, as this is all part of the ongoing project which will ensure T1's structural integrity for the continued safety of its users," Abaya said.

He added that the "sacrifices" being experienced by NAIA 1 users now "will lead to much better facilities and services in less than a year's time."

"We are confident that the public will find these inconveniences to have been worth it once the project is completed," Abaya said.

The MIAA said 4 new chillers would augment the current 3 chillers of NAIA 1 by August to upgrade the airconditioning system while rehabilitation works are ongoing.

The transportation deparment has tapped DM Consunji Incorporated to undertake the project.

Abaya said the project, which began in January, will be completed in January next year in time for the Philippine hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Summit.

"The NAIA1 rehabilitation project began last January and is on schedule to be completed by January 2015. We promised a better NAIA and are on our way to delivering on this promise, but we need the public's understanding in the meantime that we are working on it," he said.

The project entails structural retrofitting, architectural works, and the improvement of mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection facilities in NAIA 1.

Inspections

A day before the Holy Week rush to the provinces, the President inspected major passenger terminals to ensure preparations are ready for the expected high volume of travelers.

Inspite of the problems, Aquino told reporters he was happy with the improvements he had observed but admitted much must still be done since the volume of passengers continues to increase.

The President, accompanied by Abaya, went to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA)  Terminal 3 in Pasay City, NAIA 4, North Harbor in Manila, and ended his inspection at bus terminals in Cubao.

Aquino compared his visit to the Manila North Port Passenger Terminal Complex to his first inspection of the facility in 2011 as Chief Executive. In 2011, an irked Aquino expressed dissatisfaction with the measures undertaken by port officials.

"When I first visited, screening devices and monitors were monochromatic. Now they are modern, the device can highlight suspicious articles that should be focused on by inspectors. We're happy about it. We see they followed our guidance," he told reporters at his North Harbor stop.

'Higher passenger volume'

But the President also acknowledged that "the government must keep up" with increasing passenger volume.

Aquino said passengers in the airport terminals alone increased from 3 million when he first became President to 5 million last year, and the government is "on schedule" to meet its 10 million foreign arrivals target by 2016. 

He said even domestic airlines are reporting a 9% increase in volume while 2GO ships reported a 12% increase in passengers compared to last year.

"So while the numbers are rising, the economy is growing; the  chances of our countrymen to travel are growing, then of course the facilities of the government must be able to keep up. That is what we're working on. We just want to make sure the right facilities are in the right places," he said. 

Aquino said his administration's focus has also shifted to improving provincial airports for foreigners who want to head directly to their choice destination outside Manila, so they do not have to pass through the capital. 

He said his goal is for only 30% of tourists visiting the Philippines to pass through the NAIA.

The President also said the government also plans to construct a new budget terminal, to ease congestion in existing terminals, and to improve the Clark International Airport in Pampanga by adding another runway, and possibly a railway system connecting the freeport to the Central Business District.

Inspection tour

At NAIA 3, the first stop of the President's Holy Week inspection tour, airport officials gave Aquino a walking briefing on the status of passenger volume and traffic, airport security and assistance measures.

At the terminal, Aquino inspected X-ray machines, check-in counters, final security X-ray areas and pre-boarding areas, and Help Desk counters including medical, operations and security desks, before heading for NAIA Terminal 4, the old domestic airport, where he interacted with some passengers.

Aquino proceeded to the North Port Passenger Terminal Complex where he checked ticketing booths, excess baggage screening and assessment areas, X-ray machines and Help Desks manned by the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA).

He also inspected the waiting lounge at the South Wing, where various passenger facilities are located.

The President also went to the Five Star Bus line terminal in Cubao, where he boarded a bus filled with passengers, and was expected to go to the JAC Liner Bus line in Kamias as well.

During the inspection tour, the President was briefed by Abaya on the status of operations and arrangements made by the transportation department for Holy Week. 

Holy Week is considered one of the busiest time of the year for travel in the Philppines, with many Filipinos opting to go to their home provinces or abroad during the long weekend break. – with reports from Agence France-Presse