OPINION: Clark International Airport As A Viable Entity



Author: Jose Ma. J. Fernandez, http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/

WE have been treated recently to an ongoing see-saw battle to create a new airport to service Metro Manila and environs. Giant conglomerate San Miguel and its chief honcho Ramon Ang have been trying to invest in an airport project, perhaps spurred on by their having invested in the country’s original flag carrier, Philippine Air Lines. In a move typical of the conglomerate and its chief executive, they have zeroed in on developing the original now-defunct area where Amari and its local partner wanted to reclaim and establish a commercial area in front of Parañaque and Las Piñas. This move is premised on their being able to get the nod and attention of Department of Transportation and Communications, especially since the big boss, P-Noy, is usually inclined toward bidding out projects, including this prime undertaking of the international airport.

Militating against the intended location sought by San Miguel is the Japan International Cooperation study that examined several locations to determine the best possible place for an international airport. In this study, the other likely location near the Metro area that looked likely was Sangley, albeit not in the form it is in today. A lot of reclamation work has to be done to make the site viable. The study also indicated that a twin airport system is best for the country, much like the twin or treble airport systems that exist in many countries these days. Given the very crowded situation in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) these days, it makes sense for the other airport, namely Clark, to be a focal point for further development.

While the big boys battle it out for the location of the Metro airport—between Sangley and the San Miguel chosen area closer to the existing Naia—it is pretty clear that Naia itself will probably be closed down and commercial flights transferred to the new airport. What may remain may simply be executive and business aircraft plus some cargo operations. In this way, Naia will become yet another real-estate play, as some 60 percent of its current area will be freed up for commercial development, adding to the malls and condominiums that are fast dotting the cityscape.

Meanwhile, Clark International Airport has determined that, for the next five or so years, it will try and capture the 40 percent of Naia flyers who come from the Central and Northern Luzon areas. There remains a lack of proper marketing and consciousness programs, those that will make these potential flyers aware of Clark and the availability of flights. A typical chicken and egg situation exists. The airlines would probably detail more aircraft and create more flights if they are assured that more passengers would fly in them. This problem is being looked into right now.

The existing terminal has been expanded and is now looking spanking new, with air conditioners working as they should. New amenities are coming in, such as a new building to be constructed by a private party in front of the terminal, to house restaurants and shopping facilities that the meeters-greeters-send offs can avail themselves of instead of crowding into the current area. This building will connect through a bridgeway to the main terminal.

Meanwhile, a team commissioned by Aeroport de Paris has completed the initial phase of a new terminal that will be the starting point of a modular airport terminal that will eventually serve from 50 million to 80 million passengers. Both legacy and budget airlines will have their respective areas, but even these areas will be prepared to take on any change in traffic patterns. The modular design will allow for construction to be done as needs arise. Cargo and other facilities like Maintenance Repair & Overhaul and Fixed Base Operation will also be provided for in a separate area. The 2,300+ hectares of the Clark Aviation Complex will allow for two parallel main runways—one currently exists and is the only one that can take the Airbus 380s —and a slightly shorter dependent runway that can be used by the cargo airliners that are coming back to Clark and the remaining military and civilian rescue and logistical operations that need space and a large runway.

The initial phase for the proposed Terminal 2 in Clark is slated to start in the coming year, with construction of the terminal itself and the apron and other facilities likely to pave the way. Simultaneously, areas for the MROs and FBOs will be developed, much like the one that SIA has with its huge hangars that will service any plane in their fleet of Airbus 319/320s, 380s and the Boeing 777s.

Sometime in the near future, when the time is right, proposals will be entertained for the train connection between Metro and Clark/Subic. In fact, some quarters have proposed that the connections be from port to port, i.e., Batangas to Manila to Clark to Subic. Both cargo and passengers will be ferried to make the project viable.

Clark is not a dream, and is not initially dependent on a railway as many people think. But for those from the Metro area who wish to fly out of Clark, the next couple of years should see the completion of the two connector roads that will allow people from the South to travel to the North seamlessly. Thus, Alabang to Nlex should take some 30 minutes to 40 minutes, and an additional one hour for the Nlex leg to Clark. That is how long it takes to traverse Edsa on a regular day!

Presently, some bus companies have set up a regular shuttle from TriNoma to Clark and back that will allow for quicker dedicated travel.

The future of the Clark area is interesting as it takes on its destiny of an Aerotropolis, a metropolitan area built around an airport. The planned Green City that will start at about 4,000 hectares but which can be ramped up to over 40,000 hectares to 60,000 hectares promises to be a different kind of metropolis with wide boulevards, use of public mass transport like rail, biking and hiking lanes, urban forest zones, clean energy, and the banning of any polluting activity. Better yet is a nascent idea to make the Green City the administrative capital, leaving branches of the main government offices in Metro.

So, anyone who thinks the Clark International Airport has no future better think again.

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