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More dev’t funds efforts for the regions

THE Department of Transportation (DoTr) announced last June that it would start the long-postponed development of Clark to meet the fast-expanding needs of international travel, in view of the impossible limitations at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

The problem at NAIA is that it has only one long runway, intersected at one end by a short one. Only 40 takeoffs and landings a day are possible, resulting in flight delays. Arriving airliners often have to await their turn circling overhead, costing airline companies an estimated P7 billion a year in fuel and engine maintenance costs. Because of this congestion, the NAIA is considered among the “high-risk” airports in the Asia Pacific. There is no room for another runway in its 6.7 hectares of land.

In stark contrast, Clark airport in Pampanga has 4,000 hectares of land. It has two giant runways on which giant bombers and jet fighters of the US 13th Air Force used to take off on their way to the Korean War and later the Vietnam War. In case of an emergency, the runways could accommodate the US Space Shuttle.

The national government finally decided to make greater use of NAIA and the DoTr under Secretary Arthur Tugade has started the ball rolling by moving the department to Clark. Two giant conglomerates have submitted proposals to develop Clark International Airport – a R200-billion proposal from GMR Infrastructure Ltd. of India and Megawide Construction Corp. and a R187-billion proposal from JG Summit Holdings and Filinvest Development Corp.

In the face of all these developments, Philippine Air Lines came up a proposal last week to build a P20-billion annex building for NAIA Terminal 2, which is now being used exclusively by PAL. It would use a 16-hectare area occupied by the former Philippine Village Hotel. PAL would build aerobridges to serve wide-bodied jets, multilevel parking for 1,000 vehicles, and improve airport amenities for passengers.

But the problem at NAIA is not so much inadequate terminal facilities as inadequate runways, which limit the number of take-offs and landings. With its present runways NAIA simply cannot accommodate more flights. What good is an expanded terminal with better facilities for passengers, when there can be no additional flights to bring in more passengers?

There is the other problem of road traffic congestion. Because of traffic jams throughout Metro Manila, many airlines have already moved to Clark, while many business enterprises are shifting their cargo shipments to Subic Bay Freeport.

It is indeed time to move out to the regions, especially those which already have the basic infrastructures such as airports and seaports. NAIA will long continue to be used as it is the main gateway to Metro Manila, but is time to put more development funds and efforts, government and private, in other parts of the country.