NAIA upgrade needed before building new airport
Despite traffic congestion and clamors for a new airport, the government still has to increase the capacity of the existing Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) before anything else, the latest study of the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) stressed.
The priority should be to “increase (NAIA’s) capacity through a series of upgrade projects and potential privatization,” according to the aviation consultant. “Extending the concession period to 25 years may the best solution as it could provide the right mix of benefits for all stakeholders.”
“Manila will eventually require a new airport because NAIA is space-constrained and has no room for new runways or terminals,” CAPA acknowledged. “However, there are opportunities to increase capacity of the existing four terminals while significantly improving the customer experience.”
It takes at least ten years to build a new airport.
CAPA added that if NAIA’s operations and maintenance is bid out late this year at a projected amount of R75 billion and the concession agreement is too short, like 15 to 20 years, “the private new operator may not implement all the needed upgrades, or could raise charges significantly in order to recoup the investment quickly.”
On the other hand, “a longer concession at NAIA could impact investor appetite in the new airport project,” it said.
(A case in point was NAIA Terminal 3, which started out in the drawing board in 1993. It was awarded to private proponents in 1997, got into legal entanglements before it opened in 2008 and did not become fully operational till 2014.)
In the meantime, NAIA can increase its runway capacity through a transition to a single runway operation. Closing NAIA’s smaller intersecting runway can improve air traffic management, like what Mumbai Airport did in 2013.
NAIA, the country’s largest airport and the fifth largest in Southeast Asia, accounts for 90% of all domestic passengers and over 80% of all international passengers.
While the airport cut slots in 2012 to reduce congestion, it “has the opportunity to increase slots as general aviation operations move out and air traffic management improves.”
Last year, NAIA handled 39.5 million passengers, of which 20.6 million are domestic and 18.9 million, international, registering an 8% passenger growth (6%, domestic and 10%, international).
At present, it handles a maximum of 40 flights per hour and 5,100 scheduled commercial flights per week, with an average of 365 takeoffs and 365 landings per week. Movements are now capped at 40 per hour.
Authorities were able to reduce congestion in September, 2016 by implementing new restrictions on general aviation operations. On time performance (OTP) at NAIA improved immediately from 55% to nearly 80%.
New air traffic control procedures are expected to free up more slots.
In 2015, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) contracted UK- based National Air Traffic Services (NATS) to assist local airport authorities with a runway optimization project.
NATS is expected to recommend a single runway air traffic management system which the government will likely adopt.
After transitioning to a single runway system, Mumbai Airport was able to increase movements from a maximum of 40 per hour to 46 per hour. London Gatwick handles 55 flights per hour with a single runway.
Asian airports are reluctant to increase movements to European levels, CAPA noted, “But at Manila there should be an opportunity to increase movements significantly without reaching the level achieved by Gatwick.”
Improved air traffic management should unlock a new phase of growth for NAIA, enabling all Philippine carriers to base more aircraft in Manila, the CAPA study pointed out.
Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines/PAL Express and Philippines AirAsia are all committed to fleet expansion over the next few years, hoping NAIA can accommodate more aircraft and flights.
While all three airline groups are now pursuing expansion at secondary airports in the Philippines, the preference would also be to grow in Manila.