FOR the first time since the government took possession of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminal 3 (Naia 3) seven years ago, a foreign airline finally began operations here on Sunday, promising what could be the start of the terminal’s full rehabilitation and commercial use for both domestic and international operations.
All Nippon Airways (ANA), the second-largest airline company in Japan, landed on Sunday at Naia 3 from Narita and flew out yesterday with 108 passengers, of which 14 are in business class and the rest seated in economy. The airline utilized the 214-seater B767. It will operate between Manila and Narita seven times a week.
“This is an historic occasion in line with President Aquino’s promise to lure more tourists to come to the Philippines,” said Manila International Airport Authority general manager Jose Honrado.
For his part, Japan embassy consul general Motohiko Kato invited the Filipinos to visit Japan in April for the Cherry Blossom Festival, one of Japan’s major tourist attractions.
“The start of Ana’s operations at Naia 3 is a symbol of further development and the close relations between the two countries,” Kato said.
Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim said barring unforeseen events such as the unfolding drama in the Middle East, where the price of oil would be a significant factor in the airline’s profitability, he said he hopes that other air carriers would transfer to Naia 3 to raise the current tourism figure from 3.5 million a year to 6 million five years down the road.
“I don’t want to overestimate because it took us 40 years to reach 3 million tourists,” Lim said, adding that last year, tourism arrivals rose by 17 percent. He added that the Philippines expects more Japanese tourists to visit the country since Japan is still the third-largest source of tourists after the US and South Korea. “One of 10 arriving tourists in the Philippines is Japanese,” Lim said.
Honrado, on the other hand, said starting March this year, a team would start conducting tests on Naia 3’s other facilities to study their viabilities. He said there is an ongoing assessment on 18 issues such as the aero-bridges, baggage handling system, flight information display system, master clock, passenger check-in system, computer system, common use terminal equipment, baggage reconciliation system, airfield lighting system, ramp control system, security cameras and the public address system, and a host of other devices.
There are fears that after more than a decade since the equipment and machineries were tested, moisture and rust may have taken their toll. The assessment could recommend the upgrade or replacement of defective systems.
Honrado revealed that Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines are the two other air carriers interested in relocating to Naia 3.
He said both companies are waiting for the Miaa to give the go-signal before they start constructing their own passenger lounges, check-in counters, computer system and others.
Takenaka, the Japanese construction company that built Naia 3, is still in charge of the passenger terminal’s rehabilitation at a cost of about P2 billion Honrado said.
Surprisingly, a Philippine Air Terminal Construction Company (Piatco) representative, Janet Cordero, was present during the event, including a representative from Fraport AG. She said she is glad that finally Naia 3 would be in full use, although she refused to discuss the legal settlement issue.
Antonio Bautista, senior assistant general manager, said that in March this year, a team would conduct structural study on the soundness of Naia 1 at a cost of P10 million.
“There is imperative need to transfer some of the international air carriers to Naia 3 so that the Miaa could start rehabilitating the 29-year-old Naia terminal 1, or maybe condemn it if the building is found unsound,” Bautista added.
“When Naia 1 is partly decongested, it would give us room to upgrade and rehabilitate one-half of the terminal while operations will continue on the remaining half,” he said, adding that construction work would take three years.
Meanwhile, ANA said the Philippines remains one of its biggest traffic hub in Southeast Asia and its Tokyo Narita-Manila service will not only link the two big cities, but also connect demand for onward travel to North America by transfer at Narita.
ANA’s current Southeast Asia network includes routes from Narita to Bangkok, Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City, as well as Haneda to Bangkok and Singapore.
Together with the Narita-Jakarta service, which was launched on January 7, the inauguration of the Narita-Manila service will enable ANA to operate a total of nine daily flights serving seven routes to five SEA destinations, widening choice for passengers traveling between Japan and SEA.
Hideaki Izumi, Manila general manager said aside from Manila, ANA expects to operate in other airports in the Philippines, such as Cebu or Davao provided that passenger traffic is sufficient.
The government took possession of Naia 3 in 2004 after the justice department concluded that the build-operate-transfer project was riddled with corruption.
Tuesday, 1 March 2011