Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Philippine int'l airports fly in new direction

By Tina Arceo-Dumlao
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 18:05:00 12/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines - Fortunately or unfortunately, tourists and business travelers get their first impression of a place they are visiting at the airport they land in.

This is one of the reasons why countries and cities take great pains and spend much money to put up state-of-the-art airports that double as show pieces of what they have to offer. Think Changi in Singapore, Chek Lap Kok in Hong Kong, Heathrow in London and John F. Kennedy in New York City.

But more than just putting on a great face, airports play a role in economic development because of the goods and people that pass through their portals.

The Manila International Airport Authority, which oversees all international airports in the Philippines, recognizes this important role, which is why it has come up with programs to ensure that it fulfills its vision to bring the main airports in the Philippines at par with the best in the world.

In an interview with the Inquirer, Miaa General Manager Alfonso Cusi explains how the Miaa plans to stay true to its mission.

Q: What do you think is the role of airports in national development?

A: The Ninoy Aquino International Airport undoubtedly continues to be the main international gateway of the country, as it has been for the past several decades. Last year, even with the emergence of new airports with international flight capabilities, the Naia complex, handled about 90 percent of all international traffic in the country. If we were to consider total passenger traffic in the country, that is, including domestic passenger movement, Naia accounted for about 75 percent.

Throughout the years, the Manila International Airport Authority has been managing the Naia complex, which is composed of Terminal 1, Terminal 2 or the Centennial Airport, and the Manila Domestic Passenger Terminal. This year, starting in June 2008, the long-awaited Terminal 3 was finally opened with its first commercial flight during the return flight of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo after her state visit to the United States.

We would like to believe that Miaa had been successfully running the main gateway that is Naia through the past decades and gauging from its basic key result areas of passenger safety, security and convenience, Naia as an airport has somehow contributed satisfactorily in making the Naia a world class and efficient airport, giving its all-out effort in coping with the ever growing flight and passenger traffic.

Q: How busy are the main airports?

A: Naia handled around 21 million passengers in 2007. In 2007, we registered 54,643 international flights consisting of both incoming and outgoing flights. Our domestic flights are around 92,648 flights a year. With our runway system consisting of our primary runway 06-24 and our secondary runway 13-3, our runway capacity is fast approaching its maximum level, that is why we are undertaking appropriate technical studies so we can still enhance our capacity. At present, we can accommodate about 30 to 40 flights an hour with as many as 42 flights during peak hours.

Q: Over the past five years, what were the major accomplishments of Miaa as far as airport development is concerned?

A: The Naia, in its own humble way has been judiciously assessing ways and means by which it could be a better airport for its stakeholders. For the various international airlines, we have been on our toes in making sure that we are always compliant with all the appropriate international standards governing civil aviation, such as those of the International Civil Aviation Organization or Icao, the United States' Transportation Security Administration or TSA and the International Aviation Transport Association or the Iata.

By observing and abiding by the set international standards in civil aviation and airport management in terms of operational soundness, security provisions and safety standards, we are able to provide a healthy and effective venue for airlines to operate in.

We may not be able to enjoy the financial capacity to compete among the most modern airports in the world, nor can we guarantee that we can hold a candle in terms of the supremacy of our airport processes as this also is based on technology. But we have been able to identify that there is one area that we are sure and bullish to be able to compete in and that is in the area of human resources, or our people.

We have thus pursued our service excellence campaign using a unique branding strategy of making the airport be known and regarded as one of the most friendliest airports in the region. Naia as the smiling airport is being promoted with our creative campaign of “Naia, we go the extra Smile,” to catch the imagination not only of our external public but to create greater commitment within each and every individual in the airport.

Q: What are the priority projects going forward?

A: I would say that a new chapter of the corporate life of the Miaa came when a new executive order was signed by President Macapagal-Arroyo. Having been entrusted with the management and administration of the country's premier international gateway for almost the past three decades, Miaa had acquired and developed the expertise necessary for the proper and aggressive functioning of international airport terminals.

EO 341 was issued to modify and expand the powers and functions of the Miaa by authorizing and directing it to exercise administrative supervision and control over all international airports in the Philippines. This will make it possible to achieve the objectives of providing high standards of accommodation and service within the context of a financially viable operation.

The overall picture calls for revitalizing the country's airport hubs respective of their distinct purpose in the industry and redefine the limits of their development capabilities. With the Naia servicing 90 percent of all international passenger traffic and with the new Naia Terminal 3 opened, which dramatically raised terminal capacity of the Naia complex to almost 35 million passengers a year, it will be a most challenging and difficult road toward being able to rationalize the gateway development broad strokes for the Naia as well as the other international airports in the country, with the end in view of aggressively pursuing the bright prospects of a developing country with such vast potential in trade and tourism.

Q:. What would you say would be the major issues confronting the airports?

A: Basically, the global airport industry is a very exciting and ever changing industry. Airports have been the showcase all nations, regardless of whether they are developing or are developed countries. Miaa, entrusted with premier gateway administration and development, is certainly facing the challenge of addressing not only national or parochial concerns within the Naia complex, but needs to deal with the atmosphere of competitiveness in the mind of the global passenger.

This is so because, somehow, airports play a very crucial role in the way countries all over the world market or sell themselves.

Q. What are the major stumbling blocks to further development of airports?

A: One of the common constraints to development programs especially for those involving infrastructure development is the availability of long-term financing for capital expenditure. This is most especially true for the development of airports, which is truly characterized by a high level of capex. Hence, it is important that countries are able to project the long-term prospects not only of the country as a whole, but also the various regions within a particular nation. The development of airports is usually a natural consequence of a nation's development thrusts and the Philippines is not an exception. Hence, we are aligning our national plan for airport development with the overall plan for infrastructure development as well as the trade and tourism thrusts of the country.

Q: The airports have been downgraded because of safety, how is the Miaa responding to this pressing issue?

A: This is actually an issue that concerns more the former ATO, now the Caap, since the downgrade has been caused by the observation that we have had inadequacies in air safety concerns, air controllership training and support policies and laws in civil aviation. But just the same, the Miaa and the Naia community have been joining hands with the Caap in helping make possible the pertinent measures that will help us get into the same category as we were before.

Q:. Do you see more airlines coming to the Philippines? Why or why not?

A: Definitely. Firstly, there is the item on the tourism prospects of the country. The growth of airlines servicing a country's routes is usually anchored on the way a country is able to pursue its trade and tourism thrusts. Secondly, it's also a function of how airports are built and managed. We are confident that when airports are run professionally, there is no reason why there will be no growth in terms of passenger flights and passenger traffic as a whole. This is the very reason that we at the Miaa have a very crucial role in helping maintain a healthy mix of international airlines. This is the reason why the Miaa is also teaming up with all the government agencies operating at the Naia, such as the Bureau of Immigration, Bureau of Customs, Philippine National Police Aviation Security Group, Department of Tourism, quarantine offices of the Department of Health and others. This is also the reason why we need to also closely work with all the private international and domestic airlines and the various service providers handling a wide array of airport services in cargo handling, security screening, housekeeping and many others.

Q: Do you see our airports in Metro Manila becoming truly world class?

A: Certainly. We have actually been saying that at the Naia we offer world-class service, world-class smiles.

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