Clark Int’l Airport Holds Key For PH to Reap Rewards of Ballooning Air Traffic

First of Three Parts (Authored by Lorenz S. Marasigan,

DOMESTIC and international air traffic volumes in the Philippines have ballooned over the past decade averaging 10% annually since 2005. While seemingly a positive development, this is still seen as both a boon and a bane to the rising tiger of Asia.

The increased volume means an upward tick in revenues from tourism, one of the growth drivers of the country’s local output. But with airport facilities remaining as they were 10 years before, the Philippines will continue to carry that stigma of having one of the worst airports in the world, no thanks to runway and terminal congestion at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), such a
situation places the Philippines at the losing end, with potential revenues from traffic lost to other hubs in the region.

“Recent trends suggest that capacity constraints are resulting in traffic being lost to other regional hubs, rather than being recaptured by Clark International Airport, to the detriment of the economy of the Philippines,” it said.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) expects the NAIA to handle some 37.78 million passengers this year, way beyond its 30-million annual passenger capacity and a few notches up from its maximum capacity of 35 million passengers per year.

With this on the table, the government has moved to address the looming problem of accommodating more passengers and airplanes in Manila. One of these initiatives involve the construction of an airport that will replace NAIA down the line.

This airport, however, will only be built by 2025—at least according to estimates given by JICA, if the current government opts to have the project rolling during its term.

The loophole to this equation, according to Avelino L. Zapanta, an aviation expert, is that Manila will continue to see its numbers rising, averaging at a tenth every year, and yet, capacity will remain the same.

Such a scenario will lead to delayed and canceled flights, longer queues and even warmer terminals.

Instead of waiting for this to happen, the government, he said, should consider the dual-airport strategy of developing Clark International Airport and NAIA.

“I have advocated the use of Clark as international or domestic gateway and the Naia for purely domestic gateway as means to decongest NAIA overnight. But the transportation department is not listening,” Zapanta said.

The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), he said, is too engrossed with the idea of building an airport in Sangley Point, Cavite, a prospect that will only materialize in a decade, at the fastest.

“It is enamored with developing Sangley as a new international airport. But our problem is here now and its solution is for long term —2025 in their view; much longer in mine. Clark can handle all international operation in a five-year phased transfer of foreign airlines and local airlines doing international operations with some accompanying developments,” he said.

Highly Underutilized

Clark International Airport Corp. President Emigdio P. Tanjuatco III said the airport is currently underutilized, with about 870,000 passengers accommodated in 2014, way below its rated capacity of 4 million passengers per year.

“At any given hour, we are too underutilized. Slotting is not a problem in Clark, we have a lot of slots,” he said. “For example, while the 3 p.m. time slot, which is one of the most sought-after slot, for  the NAIA is already full, Clark can still accommodate operations at that hour.”

Currently, there are only seven airlines operating out of Clark. Of the figure, only one, Cebu Pacific, is a local carrier serving a few international and local flights.

“Compared to the NAIA, which averages at around 42 flight movements per hour, we can easily distribute slots to airlines, because we still have a lot of capacity,” Tanjuatco said.

The airport in the north, formerly known as Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, has two 3,200-meter parallel runways equipped with various navigational aids and lighting facilities, rated the highest for precision approach by the US Federal Aviation Authority. It has a single terminal with an annual capacity of 4 million passengers per year, but plans to construct a P7.2-billion terminal is now in the works.

Clark was envisioned to be the future primary international gateway of the Philippines once  the NAIA reaches its full capacity and when the main airport can no longer expand. It was envisioned to be an aerotropolis —an aviation city—with businesses and industries moving in to the former US airfield. Former President Fidel V. Ramos ordered the development of Clark to be a premier gateway to the Philippines, with capacity expansions envisioned to reach 14 million passengers by 1998.

The Bases Conversion and Development Authority crafted a master plan for the development of the airport, but unfortunately, the plan remained on paper and never materialized.

Despite this setback, Clark’s facilities, Tanjuatco said, can still accommodate the projected 6 million passengers that Clark would have accommodated, if only there were more commercial operations out of the airport.

“According to a market study that we conducted, there are about 6 million potential passengers within the area last year. It would have been more practical for them if they flew out of Clark, but there were limited flights,” he said.

These potential customers, Tanjuatco said, reside in Central and Northern Luzon. Clark, he said, can serve the two regions, part of Southern Tagalog and the National Capital Region.

“There is a market for Clark. Central and Northern Luzon has a population of about 23 million. Calabarzon and the National Capital Region, likewise, have almost the same. We can serve them. The catchment area of Clark last year is 6 million passengers, but 5 million flew out of NAIA. The rest flew out of Clark. If only there were flights out of Clark, then we could have served the 5 million passengers from here,” he explained.

Zapanta added that such a catchment area is at least 75 percent of Metro Manila, hence, Clark is really a viable option. “The market is North and Central Luzon—developing as tourism areas already.  The combined volume of these catchment areas is at least 75 percent of Metro Manila, also North Metro Manila, which has faster access to Clark compared to the Naia,” he said.

But despite this, the government and local carriers are still much focused on the capital airport, as it is nearer to the central business districts of Makati City and Bonifacio Global City when compared to Clark.

Hence, the problem, according to a 2011 JICA report on Philippine airports, lies on the lack of proper planning and asset utilization.

“There is strong growth in demand for greater capital region air travel. Despite capacity constraints at NAIA and available capacity at Clark, airlines and passengers continue to focus on NAIA,” it said.

Chicken and Egg

Improving Clark’s margins is a chicken-and-egg situation, Tanjuatco lamented.

“Increasing flights out of Clark is really an airline decision. Airlines will always look for the lucrative destinations to add to their networks. The disadvantage of Clark versus Boracay and Davao is that these latter two are already destinations in themselves. Clark is not much of a destination, that’s why we are pushing for tourism in the north to also be heightened,” he said.

The president of the airport also acknowledged the need of airlines to see returns from millions of pesos in investments in a route.

“Expanding the operations in Clark is a chicken-and-egg situation. At one hand, you have passengers that are looking for flights. On the other are airlines looking for passengers,” he said. “But we have enough passengers to have a lucrative business for the airlines—that’s what they have to see.”

Local airlines, however, are not too convinced with this argument.

Source: Lorenz S. Marasigan,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s