airports in the Philippines

[OPINION] Clark International Airport, one of world’s most beautiful airports, is badly underutilized

Isagani de Castro Jr.

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[OPINION] Clark International Airport, one of world’s most beautiful airports, is badly underutilized

Composite images of parts of the new Clark International Airport Terminal in Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga, on May 24, 2024.

Composite photos/Isagani de Castro, Jr./Rappler

Now that we have a world-class airport, it doesn't get the air and passenger traffic it needs

To see is to believe that the Philippines already has one of the world’s best airports.

Anyone who’s seen or gone through the new Clark International Airport Terminal (CRK) would know that the Philippines has had a world-class airport since it partially opened in 2021. 

Last year, the new terminal was recognized as one of the World’s Most Beautiful Airports by Prix Versailles, an architectural competition on contemporary projects worldwide since 2015. The winners are announced yearly at the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (Unesco).

The new CRK, which started full commercial operations in May 2022, is an architectural beauty and great engineering work. 

The building’s interior design by global design firm Populous is truly one that the whole country can be proud of as it matches the first-class look and feel of many of the world’s leading airports. Engineering and construction work was done by Filipino billionaire Edgar Saavedra’s Megawide Corporation and Indian firm GMR.

The 110,000-square-meter, four-level CRK was a hybrid Public-Private Partnership Project between the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) and the Megawide-GMR Construction Joint Venture. Megawide-GMR started construction in 2018 and turned over the project to BCDA in January 2021, after which the Luzon International Premiere Airport Development Corporation (LIPAD) took over.

The LIPAD consortium is composed of JG Summit Holdings Incorporated, Filinvest Development Corporation, Philippine Airport Ground Support Solutions Incorporated, and Changi Airports Philippines Pte. Ltd, a fully-owned subsidiary of Changi Airports International. It has a 25-year concession agreement for the operations and maintenance of CRK.  

Indoors, Person, Floor
ROOF. The entrance to the departure area of the new Clark International Airport Terminal in the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga, on April 1, 2024. Lance Yu/Rappler

The most notable feature of the terminal is its roof arches using Glued-Laminated Timber or GluLam technology. For this, Megawide partnered with Hong Kong’s International Design Associates (IDA). According to IDA’s Principal Architect for CRK Winston Shu, CRK’s roof could be the “largest single roof built of GluLam in the world.” 

CRK also has gender-neutral comfort rooms and separate comfort rooms for Persons With Disability (PWDs) as well as changing rooms for babies.

EXCLUSIVE. The new Clark International Airport Terminal has separate comfort rooms for the gender-neutral and for Persons With Disabilities (PWDs), as well as changing rooms for babies. Isagani de Castro, Jr./Rappler

But to see is to also believe reports that the new CRK Terminal is badly underutilized, even though international tourism is supposed to have substantially recovered already from the pandemic, according to UN Tourism, a United Nations specialized agency. It forecasts full recovery by the end of 2024.

building, structure, airport
NOT BUSY. The arrival area of the new Clark International Airport Terminal in Pampanga is unlike the arrival area of NAIA terminals in Pasay City, Metro Manila – for the wrong reasons. Isagani de Castro, Jr./Rappler
Road, Car, Transportation
BLUE. Clark International Airport Terminal has metered Blue Taxis that can take commuters to places in Clark Freeport Zone and other places. Isagani de Castro, Jr./Rappler
FAST. Checking in is a breeze at the new Clark International Airport Terminal in Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga, on May 24, 2024. Isagani de Castro, Jr./Rappler

In an out-of-town trip over the weekend which brought me to the CRK for the first time, the underutilization was sadly palpable – in the limited number of people entering the building, going through check-in, waiting in lounges, eating in restaurants; the slow movement of taxis waiting outside for customers, and most of all, the lack of airplanes using the terminal. 

EMPTY. Some of the waiting areas of the new Clark International Airport Terminal in Pampanga are often empty due to underutilization of the facility. Isagani de Castro, Jr./Rappler
FAST. Getting your check-in luggage in the new Clark International Airport Terminal is fast, unlike in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminals in the Philippines’ main gateway. Isagani de Castro, Jr./Rappler

Partly due to underutilization, your check-in luggage may already be on the baggage carousel by the time you get off the plane and reach the baggage claim area.

Unlike the unpredictability of flights in the Philippines’ main international gateway, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, flights in CRK leave and arrive on time – or even earlier. When I went back to Manila using CRK on May 26, my Philippine Airlines flight left Busuanga airport in Palawan 20 minutes earlier than scheduled and arrived 20 minutes earlier in CRK. A very rare experience!

LIMITED. With only 14 airlines using the new Clark International Airport Terminal as of May 14, 2024, more often than not, few planes are parked in the new terminal. Isagani de Castro, Jr./Rappler

When the consortium LIPAD took over the operations of CRK in 2019, a year before the pandemic halted travel, the airport was being used by 20 airlines for 19 domestic and 12 international destinations. 

As of May 1, 2024 or five years later (three years affected by the pandemic) there were 14 airlines going to 7 domestic and 10 international destinations. Thus, there were 6 fewer airlines using CRK compared to 2019. The number of domestic destinations declined by 12 and the number of international destinations fell by two. The 14 airlines using CRK as of May 1 were: 

Domestic flights

  • Air Swift
  • Cebu Pacific/CebGo
  • Philippine Airlines
  • Air Asia Philippines
  • Sunlight Air

International flights

  • Aero K Airlines
  • Asiana Air
  • Cebu Pacific
  • Emirates
  • Eva Air
  • Jeju Air
  • Jin Air 
  • Qatar
  • Scoot
  • Starlux Airlines

By end of 2023, the number of passengers who used CRK was 1.9 million or nearly 2 million, which means it was only serving 25% or one-fourth of its 8 million capacity. The 1.9 million figure is around 50% below CRK’s pre-pandemic level of 4 million, according to LIPAD CEO and president Noel Manankil.

In a press conference last month on the launching of Sunlight Air’s inaugural April 1 flight from Clark to Busuanga in Palawan, Manankil said the consortium and the Department of Transportation (DOTr) are working to try to bring more airlines to use CRK. JetStar is expected to once again use CRK for its Singapore-Clark route. 

The CRK’s predicament, however, reflects badly on the state of Philippine tourism. If the Philippines is able to attract more tourists not just to Clark but to other areas in Luzon and other parts of the country, it would be much easier to get airlines to use CRK. 

When the new CRK was inaugurated in January 2021, some officials said it would be “Asia’s next premiere gateway” that would make Clark the “next premiere metropolis of Asia.” From what I saw, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to achieve these. –


Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Avatar photo


Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.