POSTSCRIPT / September 2, 2018 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Hangar obstructing end of Clark runway

SOME pilots flying into Clark International Airport (CRK) have been puzzled by a hangar positioned at the end of one of its two 3.2-kilometer runways, rendering the blocked airstrip unusable even in emergencies.

The parallel runways designated as 02R/20L (active) and 02L/20R (inactive) were built to exacting specifications by the US Air Force and turned over to the Philippine government after the PH-US Bases Agreement expired in 1991.

While aviation authorities have been crying for additional runways at the congested Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) in Pasay City, here is a world-class airstrip (02L/20R) lying idle at CRK just 45 air kilometers away.

To check speculations, including talk that the hangar at the end of the idle runway is for use of an influential religious group, we asked Clark airport management what the score was. The reply:

“The construction of the hangar near the threshold of the decommissioned secondary runway is part of the approved Master Plan of the Clark Civil Aviation Complex as designed by Aeroports de Paris and approved by the CIAC Board. Its location is the area designated for the Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul Facilities (MRO) and is in strict accordance with the master plan.

“The decommissioning of the secondary runway was made in preparation for the fulfillment of the first phase of the master plan, specifically the construction of the new terminal building that is now being implemented as part of the administration’s Build Build Build program.

“It is important to note that the new terminal building is located directly on the north end of the runway, hence the need for its decommissioning.”

We wonder who ordered it built in the first place, and why the layout was not made so as to make full use of runway 02L/20R. Officials used to tell us that the two runways cannot be used simultaneously because they are too close to each other.

The excuse that they are, at something like 350 meters apart, too close would make the USAF that designed them look stupid. Or was it CIAC’s “master planner” that goofed in building a hangar right at the end of the runway?

We asked some pilot friends if the idle runway can be used for smaller aircraft requiring a shorter landing strip, stopping safely before crashing into the hangar.

They explained that Clark now has only one Instrument Landing System which guides planes coming in. Since the ILS is dedicated to the active 02R/20L, according to them, it cannot be shared by the inactive 02L/20R runway.

They said: “Under updated restrictions. you can’t operate both runways simultaneously for takeoff and landings under IFR rules, but they are still legal for simultaneous VFR (Visual Flight Rules) operations, at least according to FAA regulations. ICAO has different standards. Only 02R/20L has an Instrument Landing System, while 02L/20R is not equipped with one.”

 Bulakan airport to uproot rural folk?

ONLY Clark is ready to serve as alternative gateway when something goes wrong, as it often does, at the ageing NAIA. But being a government facility, Clark’s upgrading has been painfully slow – prompting private groups to offer solutions.

The most ambitious plan was presented by San Miguel Holdings Corp. It offered to build a modern $15-billion airport-city on 2,500 hectares at the northern shore of Manila Bay in Bulakan town, Bulacan, at no cost to the government.

San Miguel’s presentation is heavy on figures – the project cost, land area, capacity, number of runways, jobs it will create – but it barely discusses environmental and societal impact.

Part of the site is wetlands, but San Miguel says no reclamation will be done. It is hard to imagine the engineering intervention to make the airport and the new city beside it impervious to harmful effects of climate change and the degradation of the bay ecosystem.

I consulted scientists Narod Eco (University of the Philippines, Diliman) and Kelvin S. Rodolfo (University of Illinois at Chicago) on the project’s likely impact on human communities.

They noted that the site is largely wetlands, used mainly for fishing and salt-making. They said part of the land will have to be reclaimed and the swamps drained. (Clearing of mangrove areas has been ongoing.)

I mentioned my fears that with climate change, subsidence and such phenomena, the sea would not only throw back the trash dumped into it, but would also eventually take back areas reclaimed from it – unless San Miguel has the engineering genius of the Dutch.

Eco said: “Your prediction may not be too far off. We don’t have to look too far: Dagat-dagatan was reclaimed in the 70’s, now it has subsided substantially that many parts of Malabon and Navotas are flooded during high tide.”

They deduced that building an airport is not the end goal, but the creation of a new urban area — sort of a Makati CBD – beside it. The problem is that new urban space where people live and work is exposed to numerous hazards, which will be worsened by the effects of climate change.

On the negative environmental effects of the conversion: “We’ll lose a major food source since wetlands are home to fishes and other marine organisms that we rely on. Right now we’re having problems with our fish supply, and SMHC wants to destroy wetlands?

“Converting to an urban area will result in the loss of livelihood and eventual displacement. That’s essentially forcing fisherfolks to become city workers. It’s like when Pol Pot forced city dwellers to become agricultural workers. This continues the pattern of forced migration from rural communities to cities because of lack of livelihood in the countryside.

“People lose their livelihood to giant corporations that convert their communities to malls, subdivisions, plantations, etc. Not only will they suffer, but also the cities where they will have to find low-paying labor-intensive jobs and live in informal settlements.”

* * *

Erratum: The NAIA capacity we mentioned last Thursday of 45 movements of aircraft having been stretched to 66 movements is per hour, not per day as we erroneously said.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 2, 2018)

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