Interview: Eddie Monreal
How can air traffic congestion be reduced at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA)?
EDDIE MONREAL: Decongesting NAIA is our main priority at the moment. To do this, Philippine regional carriers have been asked to transfer some of their operations to secondary airports, like Clark or Cebu, and use them as transfer hubs to connect with other secondary cities and regions, thereby reducing traffic at Manila’s airport. Another solution to decongest NAIA would be to encourage local carriers to adapt the capacity of their aircraft to the needs of the airport. For example, they can maintain the same frequency but use larger planes, which would increase departure and arrival numbers while maintaining the same volume of traffic.
The current capacity of NAIA is 30m passengers, but we are dealing with 43m. The solution to air traffic congestion in Manila therefore must be a national strategy, coordinating with all airports in the country, since the potential expansion of NAIA is limited and we are experiencing a 6% year-on-year growth in passenger arrivals. All stakeholders in the aviation industry should follow the same strategy of diversifying flight destinations and increasing capacity at regional airports, so direct flights can operate from international hubs into the country’s various regions.
Why has NAIA not yet joined the ASEAN Open Skies Agreement, and when do you think this will occur?
MONREAL: All of the country’s airspace except from NAIA is part of the open skies policy, which means they are not subject to traffic limitations. The reason why NAIA is still restricted is the limited capacity of its one runway. The government is currently examining a proposal to increase the capacity of the whole airport, with seven conglomerates interested in investing in an infrastructure upgrade to allow for a capacity increase. Some conglomerates have proposed a 15-year operation and maintenance deal, for which we are still evaluating the cost-benefit implications. Today, there are 40 hourly slots for flight operations at NAIA. We aim to increase this figure slightly, but entering the ASEAN Open Skies Agreement is not yet on the table because the airport will not be able to deal with a considerable growth in flight numbers in the immediate future. In the medium term, when projects at other airports are implemented and we can diversify flight destinations, perhaps we will be able to open the skies in Manila.
In what ways can NAIA improve runway efficiency, given that the facility has a single runway?
MONREAL: The lack of an additional runway is a major issue; it is impossible to upgrade the airport with just one runway. However, we have already increased efficiency by reorganising and rationalising the order of the arrival and departure schedules. This move was effective to the extent that on-time performance of domestic airlines has increased from 45% to 75%. A rapid exit plan has also been constructed to allow planes to clear the runway faster, making land traffic more efficient. The next step would be to develop the night capacity of other airports, because today most of the flights in Manila are scheduled from sunrise to sunset, which congests the runway during this period.
What are the main developments at secondary airports that will take pressure off NAIA?
MONREAL: The goal is to fully develop the Sangley Point, Clark and Bulacan airports to relocate flight operations that are currently hosted by NAIA. Bulacan Airport’s two runways are expected to be finished by 2022, at which point Manila may have the capacity to adopt the open skies agreement. There is also cooperation to make NAIA and Clark complementing airports, and Sangley Point in Cavite is another promising development option. The Philippines currently handles 60m operations per year without most of these new facilities being operative, and once the projects are complete, we expect that the country will be able to manage 100m.
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