POSTSCRIPT / September 15, 2015 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Use Clark to absorb congestion at NAIA

ONE CRITICAL aspect of the traffic congestion choking the national capital is the inefficient movement of people and cargo through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminals. The resulting damage to individual, business and national interests is incalculable.

Every day we hear horror stories of passengers stuck in traffic missing their flights and of incoming travelers arriving too late for their connecting trips – because of the congestion bedeviling NAIA and the roads servicing it.

Former Rep. Renato V. Diaz of Nueva Ecija, chairman of the Center for Strategic Initiatives, an advocacy group for development, told us yesterday that an international airport should be able to manage some 40-42 flights per hour, or around 900 flights in a full 24-hour operation.

According to Diaz, a former member of the Civil Aeronautics Board, the NAIA complex often handles as many as 50 to 60 flights per hour, subjecting it to pressure that prejudices safety and efficiency.

One remedial measure is to reduce or divert air traffic pressure on NAIA and streamline its operations. The drastic decongestion of NAIA and the lessening of road travel time to and from the airport cannot be delayed any longer.

A bit of good news is that the long-pending plan to develop Clark International Airport in Pampanga as a twin-gateway has passed a major administrative hurdle with its recent approval by the National Economic and Development Authority.

Its approval by NEDA, headed by President Noynoy Aquino, was reported last Friday by Rep. Yeng Guiao (1st Dist., Pampanga) in a forum at the Clark Freeport of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) co-sponsored by the Clark Development Corp.

Guiao expressed confidence that the P15-billion expansion of CIA to help decongest NAIA will be completed within its 10-year timetable from 2016. Bidding is expected to be held in the first quarter of 2016.

He said the Aquino administration has authorized the release of P1.2 billion for the project’s first phase. A new terminal will be constructed to raise the airport’s capacity to seven million passengers from the current four million annually.

Aquino approves Manila-Clark rail line

PRESIDENT AQUINO also gave the go-signal, according to Guiao, for building a railway line connecting Clark and Manila under a joint project of the Department of Transportation and Communication and the Bases Conversion Development Authority.

The old North Rail project pushed under the previous administration was dropped after getting mired in corruption, with the millions borrowed for it from Japan disappearing without anybody being able to report where the money went.

A big portion of the loan went to buying right of way from Manila to Malolos and the relocation of squatters who had occupied the old northern line of the Philippine National Railways. With work on the line stopped, squatters are back.

The drive between Clark and Balintawak via the North Luzon Expressway takes about an hour. A dedicated rail line for passengers and cargo can negotiate the same distance in 40 minutes. Through EDSA it now takes from two to three hours to drive from Balintawak to NAIA.

Urging the speedy transfer of selected flights to Clark, Diaz — a former presidential assistant for Central and North Luzon — pointed out that NAIA is already operating beyond its optimum capacity.

He said the DoTC should adopt the twin gateway system like most countries with even smaller population than the Philippines. This means the international airline gateways will be both NAIA and Clark, with air traffic split between them.

The move will also draw part of the heavy vehicular traffic away from Metro Manila as passengers from north of the Pasig River and the rest of North Luzon take their flights from Clark and not add to the congestion in the national capital.

Meanwhile, the skyway connecting the South Luzon Expressway and the North Luzon Expressway is scheduled to be completed by 2017. Overpassing a wide area of Metro Manila, it will cut to 12-15 minutes the travel time from the Nichols area to Balintawak.

OFWs to benefit from move to Clark

“IT IS HIGH time the government mandated that airlines, which are public utilities, transfer as many flights as possible to Clark now,” Diaz said. “This will bring about immediate results without any need for infrastructure as there is already a terminal in Clark.”

He added: “Reclaiming land from the sea, buying right of way and building a new airport complex in the Sangley area in Cavite will take several years. The congestion problem is staring us in the face right now.”

Diaz said domestic carriers should be required to fly from Clark to all major cities to boost tourism. Flights to resort areas such as Boracay, Palawan, Cebu, etc., (including chartered planes) can emanate from Clark.

The areas serviced by Clark comprise four populous regions: Central Luzon, Cagayan Valley, the Ilocos and the Cordillera Autonomous Region. Including Northern Metro Manila (Valenzuela, Malabon, Navotas and Northern Quezon City) the market’s population base will be almost 25,000,000 or one-fourth of the national population.

Travelers in these regions can fly out without passing through the crowded roads of Metro Manila such as EDSA and C5.

Among the beneficiaries of the expanded use of Clark are the OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers), most of whom come from the provinces, mainly in Luzon. Even those from Mindanao, the Visayas and Bicol would find it more convenient and cheaper to connect via Clark.

* * *

NEWS SERVICE: Members of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) will meet this Friday at the Clark Freeport to finalize plans for their own news service under its soon-to-be-launched Pampanga Post blog. The meeting will be held at their Bale Balita (House of News) at the Clark Freeport after the group’s breakfast forum.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 15, 2015)

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