Airport projects to proceed amid bleak outlook

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    Despite the bleak outlook in the Philippine aviation sector, the government is still pushing for the implementation of two major gateway projects.

    In a virtual press briefing, Carmelo Arcilla, Civil Aeronautics Board executive director, discussed the severe impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the country’s aviation sector given the travel restrictions implemented since March this year.

    There were 47,224 flights out of Manila from June 1 to Aug. 31, 2019, as compared with the same period this year of only 800 flights, which is not even 2 percent of last year’s level, Arcilla said.

    “The outlook is still quite bleak and overall due to the pandemic,” Arcilla added.

    International and domestic commercial flights were suspended in March and resumed in June, but operations were suspended anew from August 4 to 18 due to the community quarantine to combat the spread of the virus.

    International inbound and outbound flights remain limited to essential travel for overseas Filipino workers, foreign nationals with long-term visa, students studying abroad, accredited officials, seafarers, among others.

    For the domestic operation, Arcilla said local airlines started to resume operations but are still limited to essential travel as leisure flights remain suspended.

    From August 19 to 31, there are 32 operational domestic airports and 17 airports are closed. During the period, there are 206 scheduled flights out of Manila, of which 102 are from international carriers and 104 flights from domestic airlines.

    “The commercial flights situation is very fluid and intangible. There’s different hazard level in every local government unit,” Arcilla said.

    He said the aviation sector’s recovery is expected in the next four years, citing the International Air Transport Association’s outlook.

    Despite the uncertainties in the aviation sector, construction of the $15-billion Bulacan International Airport and the rehabilitation and expansion of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) are still on track for implementation, according to the Department of Transportation (DOTr).

    Goddes Libiran, DOTr assistant secretary, said San Miguel Corp. has expressed intent to schedule the groundbreaking of the Bulacan airport after August.

    Bulacan airport is expected to be completed four to six years after construction. It will complement the operations of NAIA and Clark International Airport, as it could accommodate 100 to 200 million passengers annually.

    The NAIA rehabilitation and expansion project is now with National Economic and Development Authority Investment Coordination Committee (NEDA-ICC) for approval.

    Ruben Reinoso, DOTr undersecretary for planning, said there was a meeting with the NEDA-ICC technical team on some outstanding issues in the proposal.

    “There was a deliberation yesterday and the ICC technical board noted a number of pending compliant the second requirement of the BOT (Build, Operate, Transfer) law. We have to convey that to the proponent and we ask them to comply. So basically, these are the issues on financial capacity and the joint solidary liability agreement of the consortium,” Reinoso said.

    The government and the project proponent, Megawide Construction Corp. and India-based GMR Infrastructure Ltd., will meet next week to discuss the outstanding issues on the project.

    These projects are aimed at decongesting NAIA which is operating beyond its ideal passenger capacity of 36 million.