Arguments for a new Manila airport are gaining ground as Ninoy Aquino hits capacity crunch

The International Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ICCP) has expressed support for the San Miguel Corporation’s proposed New Manila International Airport (Bulacan) project. ICCP’s chairman Francis Chua commented: “It’s about time we have a truly world class airport we can all be proud of – one that will rival the best in the region and the world. Our country needs it, and our people deserve it”.


Summary:

  • Support for the New Manila Airport is growing with recent backing from the  International Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines;
  • The city’s existing Ninoy Aquino International Airport is at capacity with no space to grow;
  • Expansion of the Clark Airport to the north of Manila is an option, but would likely be insufficient for Manila’s long term needs;
  • One company, San Miguel Corporation, already in the airport, looks likely to get any contract for the new airport.

ICCP added the current Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) is no longer fit for purpose, commenting: “NAIA is a black eye for our country…with just two intersecting runways and virtually no space for additional runways, it cannot serve the needs of our growing economy and population, much less be a catalyst for economic growth”.

The proposed airport is intended to accommodate 100 million passengers per annum in its opening year and has a project cost of PHP735.6 billion (USD14.2 billion). It will have up to six runways and be built over six years. The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) approved the unsolicited proposal in Apr-2018.

That 100 million capacity figure would easily put the new airport in the World’s top ten, including airports that are currently under construction or expansion (Dubai World Central, New Istanbul Airport, New Mexico City Airport etc) and is more than twice NAIA’s 2017 passenger total.

CHART – Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport continues to show strong demand growth despite its capacity constraintsSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and NAI Airport reports

NAIA has grown consistently since 2009 but in the last six years at a rate of (highest) 8% and lowest 3.1%. That does not suggest urgency but as at Istanbul and Mexico City the main airport is straining at the seams.

Clark Airport, some 50 miles away, once a US air base, was resurrected primarily as a low-cost facility in 1996 until the control of the Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC), a government-owned enterprise. Gradually, full-service airlines started to use it and the traffic split is now roughly 50:50.

The government seems to like it. In Feb-2017 President Rodrigo Duterte signed an executive order to revert CIAC from the Department of Transportation to the Bases Conversion and Development Authority in order to ensure the development of the Clark Civil Aviation Complex remains parallel with that of the Clark Freeport Zone as a premier investment and promotion destination.

A USD 250 million contract for the commissioning of a new terminal with a capacity of eight million passengers per annum was awarded in Dec-2017. The terminal is intended to help “decongest” NAIA and the wider Metro Manila region. But as it stands, Clark is much smaller than NAIA with just 1.5 million passengers in 2017. As previously featured by The Blue Swan Daily, there are plans to privatise Clark under an operations and maintenance contract with South and Southeast Asia companies from both private and public sectors showing interest.

Expansion of Clark is probably insufficient in the long term. Cue San Miguel Corporation, the largest in the Philippines, which proposes to build the new airport at Bulacan. Essentially a food and beverage company, it already has interests in the aviation business, including Caticlan Airport.  It also, along with six other companies, wants to develop Clark Airport; a clear case of belt and braces.

MAP – The proposed Bulacan site is located outside of metro Manila to the north of the Philippines’ capital citySource: Google Maps

San Miguel Corporation (SMC) is not a newcomer to the business. As long ago as 2011 it was pitching for the private refurbishment and operation of Terminal 3 at NAIA, and has offered to bid for various small regional airports. It was in 2012 that it first mooted the new airport plan at Sangley Point, to the southwest of Manila, at an 8000ha disused naval base. Initially it was to have been a joint venture between SMC, Metro Pacific Investments and Ayala Corporation.

Since then it has seen off interest from other organisations to build a new airport at the same place or elsewhere, from Japan International Cooperation Agency and All-Asia Resources & Reclamation Corporation, and has shifted the location to the north of Manila. With NEDA having given approval, final approval must now be granted by President Duterte.