THE Ninoy Aquino International Airport must eventually be moved to Clark in Pampanga as its facilities in Metro Manila are nearing full capacity, Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim said over the weekend.
“We have to move to Clark,” Lim said, adding the country needed a bigger area to accommodate larger passenger and cargo terminals and parallel runways.
“At Clark, we could have more than one terminal,” he said, and with budget, regular and domestic flights using separate facilities.
The move to Clark would take up to six years and require high financing and private sector participation, but upgrading the premier airport was urgent, Lim told a meeting called last week to discuss how the airport could be improved.
“It’s important to give the best experience possible to passengers who come and go through the airport. It is the first and last impression of the country,” Lim said.
Last week’s meeting was also attended by Transport Secretary Jose de Jesus, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, information secretary Ramon Carandang, and airport General Manager Jose Honrado.
But Alfonso Cusi, the airport’s former general manager and now director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, said there was no need to move to Clark. The more practical solution was to maximize passenger capacity and upgrade the runways to accommodate larger aircraft.
The airport could accommodate almost 95 million passengers a year with its three terminals, but it was handling only 55 percent of that traffic, Cusi said.
The runways could be re-aligned to create a parallel 3.5-kilometer runway at a cost of about P2 billion. A proposal to connect the three terminals by train would facilitate passenger transfers to all terminals within minutes as in the Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysian airports.
At a congressional hearing last week, Lim said the Tourism Department wanted to see a 10-percent increase in arrivals over 2009 despite the steep drop in Hong Kong visitors after eight Hong Kong residents were killed in the Aug. 23 hostage crisis. The goal was to double tourist arrivals to 6 million by 2016.
For now, the Tourism Department would stop marketing the Philippines to Hong Kong tourists, and focus instead on other countries to hit its target of attracting 3.3 million visitors and generating $2.5 billion in tourism receipts this year, Lim said.
Given the Aug. 23 hostage tragedy, it would be a while before the country could try to woo back Chinese visitors, he said.