Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: | posted September 17, 2012 10:54
So the boss wants a new airport? Ramon S. Ang [RSA] COO of PAL has made it common sense clear. Why spend good money on NAIA when its location and its runways limit it to 36 take-offs/landings per hour? That's going to cramp the growth in international flights that PAL is aiming for in the next few years. Why even consider DMIA as it's 2 hours by road from the Metro? Plus another 2 hours or so waiting to take off? Why even make the government spend, never mind when it will finish, USD10B for a NAIA-DMIA railway? Why not just build a new one?
RSA is serious. PAL has withdrawn its bid to build another DMIA budget airline terminal. RSA is scouting around where to build the new airport with an adjacent airport city. With this development, RSA has opened up the possibility of rehiring all the retrenched PALEA employees. And this, while he continues to hire fresh crews for more flights abroad, wherever the foreign civil aviation authorities will allow PAL to land, depending on the state of Philippine airport security and operations. We can rest assured that RSA will make sure PAL's airport [PALport?] pass muster.
Bird sanctuary my arse
RSA's parameters simple. He estimates the PALport and city will need 2,000ha, which will include 2 parallel runways, expandable to 4. If possible, it should at least be 15 minutes away from EDSA Ayala via elevated expressway. No prizes for guessing this one. The new airport will rise in the Manila Bay area, partly existing, partly newly reclaimed land and linked with the Skyway NAIA extension to Macapagal Ave and Coastal Expressway. Its in the general area of the 750 ha. Cyber Bay, the former Amari project opposed by Las Pinas Congresswoman Cynthia Villar. One hurdle is that some areas of the Manila Bay foreshore have been declared a Bird Sanctuary by the previous administration. But when did the orders and declarations of the previous administration get in the way of what the current administration wants for economic growth?
Conflict of flight paths
The next hurdle is if the flight paths of the new runways will conflict with the existing flight paths in and out of NAIA including the air space needed for safe operation of flights. Remember, the new PALport should add to the frequency of take offs/landings of NAIA and not subtract from it. That hurdle still applies if the location of PALport is moved north by the Harbor city, near Petron's proposed oil terminal. This still involves lots of reclamation again and a dedicated elevated highway may have to link with Segment 10 Harbor Link of the NLEx Connector which in turn should have a junction with Skyway Stage 3 at C-3 so as to come close to the 15 minute plus plus travel time from EDSA Ayala.
That's why the boss hinted at Bulacan. Bulacan, has two sides, topographically. On its eastern side is hill country rising up to the foothills of the Sierra Madres. On the western side, is the alluvial flood plain with the fore shore of swamps and marshes on the Manila Bay side. This is the side of Bulacan that goes under water every time the dams open up as in Ondoy and last August's floods. The western flat land, though, does not present and any flight path obstruction as the air space is clear. There will be a lot of reclaiming to do on the foreshore, whether the choice is the Meycauayan-Obando zone or Paombong-Malolos zone. And there will be a need to build an elevated expressway to link with NLEx to keep access to the PALport open during floods. It should also be a good time for Ausphil's North Luzon East Expressway/LRT-7 to consider building a link to the PALport as NLEEx's Commonwealth Ave. toll plaza presents an alternative to the NLEx in case Quezon City's Visayas Ave. floods.
Moreover, building the PAL port in Bulacan means it can still have access to the NAIA-DMIA railway, in case it ever gets built. Bulacan also has an airstrip in Plaridel, but the area around it is already built up and land values may be higher than bayside marshes. Besides, acquiring 2,000ha in the vicinity of the Candaba swamp may be financially bloody. Locating the airport further up North to Subic, which needs a longer runway and runs into the path of mountains or Basa air base in Floridablanca will defeat the purpose of PALport being closer to the Metro than Clark.
There are southern alternatives, all in need of reclamation too. There's Sangley Point but at 138ha., there's going to be a lot of reclaiming to do. Ditto for the other Cavite coastal towns facing Manila Bay. Linkages to Coastal Expressway and the proposed Cavite-Laguna Expressway from Kawit to SLEx Mamplasan should not be a hurdle. Or even on the Taguig-Muntinglupa coast of Laguna de Bay. But again, it would be wise to determine if flight paths do not conflict with NAIA's. The Molino airstrip, though not in need of reclamation, faces the same crowded built-up surroundings as Plaridel, Bulacan.
Calatagan or Basa?
The farthest south PALport could venture would be the Calatagan peninsula where there will surely be no conflict with NAIA bound arrivals/departures. Here, PALport can even integrate a cruise liner port to serve inter island tourists. Calatagan's problem is that it is not easily accessible via the national roads that serve it. The highway through Tagaytay ridge is hopelessly congested while the Nasugbu to Ternate highway has not even reached Pico del Oro. Naturally, an expressway would be ideal, but so far, DPWH has no plans for any expressway in the Nasugbu or Ternate vicinity. Fernando Air Force base's 288ha in Lipa may have the space but then again, an expressway link to the STAR will be needed.
PAL is ready with USD500M in equity. Plans will be submitted to the government by January or February 2013. After years of cost cutting and rationalization, PAL has entered a blue skies phase last seen when Andres Soriano started PAL and later, when Roman Cruz was in charge. Regardless if PAL's long delayed renascent expansion is fueled by debt, the new leadership at PAL looks at the future from a customer's value for money point of view as opposed to controlling stockholders as conservator of assets. The obvious question at this early stage, is if the government is ready for a very aggressive PAL?