POSTSCRIPT / August 30, 2012 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Clark to supplement, not supplant, NAIA

CLARK FIELD – Instead of a tug-of-war between Clark International Airport here and the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City, the two aviation complexes can work in tandem. One need not operate to the exclusion of the other.

President/CEO Victor Jose I. Luciano of the Clark International Airport Corp. said in an interview Friday that NAIA caters to the big market in the national capital and contiguous areas, while Clark services Central Luzon provinces linked by MacArthur Highway.

He said Clark has a big catchment area in Luzon with a population of over 22 million, compared to South Luzon’s 27 million. Airport departure data show that travelers from the Visayas and Mindanao also use Clark extensively for budget flights.

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RIVALRY: The supposed contest between NAIA and Clark was triggered by plans to make this sprawling former US air base the premier international airport, impliedly pushing NAIA into a supporting role.

The politically charged debate was worsened by the dropping from its template the name of the late President Diosdado Macapagal, Pampanga’s most illustrious son, and replacing it with that of an American aviator many Capampangans do not even know.

The decision to replace the name Macapagal was made by the Clark Development Corp. board with Felipe Remollo as president shortly before he was removed ironically for being too accommodating to local opposition officials pushing projects in the freeport.

To clarify, while the whole complex is designated as Clark International Airport, its main terminal is named after Macapagal, whose stone bust adorns the lobby.

The decline of NAIA stems from its inability to keep in step with the growing number of travelers using it. Squeezed in a cramped corner with no more room for expansion, it is surrounded by high-rise structures and is threatened by traffic and flooding problems.

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BEST OPTION: Studies of the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Department of Transportation and Communications show that Clark is the best option for the development of the next international gateway airport to either supplement or supplant NAIA.

The choice of Clark is contingent on some conditions, including the concurrent completion of a high-speed (not to exceed 45 minutes) direct rail connection to Manila, and the North Luzon Expressway/Skyway links.

It also presupposes the completion of support facilities and infrastructure around Clark, such as the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway, improvement of NLEx and the seaport of Subic.

Clark is some 90 kilometers or 90 minutes from central Manila. In Hong Kong, Chek Lap Kok airport is 32.6 kilometers, or 30 minutes, from Kowloon. Narita is 66 kms from Central Tokyo or, depending on traffic, 90 to 120 minutes away. The ride from Gatwick to central London is 30 minutes by train, and 60-70 minutes by taxi.

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UNDER DOTC: Luciano said the Philippines can operate a twin-airport system as other countries do. He cited Japan’s Narita and Haneda airports, Washington DC’s John Foster Dulles and Ronald Reagan airports, and London’s Heathrow and Gatwick.

According to him, CIAC will expand the existing Macapagal terminal to increase its capacity from two million passengers annually to at least four million. The upgrading will use at least P360 million to be taken from a Land Bank loan.

Executive Order 193 of April 2, 2003, placed CIAC under CDC on April 2, 2003, but it was transferred to the Bases Conversion Development Authority under EO 716 on April 4, 2008. On December 21, 2011, CIAC was transferred to the DoTC under EO 64.

The airports attached to the DoTC include the NAIA, Cebu International Airport, and all other small airports. Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas sits as chairman of the CIAC board.

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CARRIERS: Clark received its first international commercial flight in August 2003 – an Asiana Airlines flight from Incheon, South Korea. Initially, the full-service airline flew to Clark twice a week and then increased its frequency to thrice weekly. Now it flies in daily. (Incidentally, Luciano, 63, used to be president of Asiana Airlines Phils.)

Other budget carriers then came in, among them Tiger Airways of Singapore and AirAsia Berhad of Malaysia. Other airlines followed: Seair, Cebu Pacific, Airphil Express, Jin Air of South Korea, Dragon Air of Hong Kong, and AirAsia Philippines.

From Clark are flown 218 international flights each week to such destinations as Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Incheon and Bangkok. Luciano said traffic has risen dramatically from 725,023 in 2011 to 540,482 from January to July this year.

There are 98 domestic flights. Also, the United Parcel Service (UPS) flies 13 times each week to Taipei and Shenzhen, while FedEx flies 13 times weekly to Taipei and Guangzhou.

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RUNWAYS: Clark has two 3.2-kilometer parallel runways that can accommodate the new generation of wide aircraft such as Airbus 380 which landed here in 2008 during a probing flight from Tolouse, France.

Luciano said CIAC plans to build a third runway a distance from the original two. The space between the two existing strips is too small for comfort for big planes using the runways at the same time.

There is also an airstrip in front of the UPS warehouse that used to be a parking area for fighter jets of the US 13th Air Force such as F-4 Phantoms. It was reconfigured to accommodate the heavy cargo planes of UPS.

The runway had been extensively used by the US’ C-17 Starlifters and the Russian Antonov 124 that brought in US war materiel during Balikatan military exercises.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 30, 2012)

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