For the North

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Clark International Airport’s potential

There are many reasons why I am excited for Clark International Airport’s potential.

For one, it has the space to grow. Lots of it. Enough to accommodate, and then some, the airport’s “ultimate” master plan for 2032, with a vision of 80 million passengers going through four terminals and three runways annually.

I was at Clark over a week ago for the Central Luzon Transport & Trade Conference, organized by this publication and the Philippine Multimodal Transport and Logistics Association, and I remembered not just the space, but also the provisions made for linkages connecting it to other parts of Luzon. The region is lucky that it is either the home of, or the beneficiary to, several major connectivity projects. It is served by four expressways connecting it to northern and central Luzon, Metro Manila, and the growing port of Subic; one imagines the construction of the Bataan-Cavite Interlink Bridge and the opening of the North-South Commuter Railway would also boost its position as a logistics hub. The work to improve connectivity between it and its immediate neighbors in Pampanga and Tarlac, such as the planned bus rapid transit system connecting it to New Clark City and to Angeles, would position it as a prime economic hub, too.

I am also excited to see the wider plan to build the ecosystem around the Clark International Airport. Of course, there’s the convention center and the sports arena (you know, the one that’ll be a suitable venue for Taylor Swift). I’m happy to see plans for a training hub that should foster the next generation of Filipino (and perhaps Asian) aviators. Most importantly, I am keen to see the development of the Clark National Food Hub, an essential plank of the government’s food security agenda, which should become one center of the country’s entire agricultural ecosystem and provide a venue for local farmers and producers to sell their wares to a larger market.

Of course, these developments are not done in isolation. The development of the Subic-Clark logistics corridor received a further boost as it became a key plank of the Luzon Economic Corridor, an initiative by the governments of the Philippines, Japan and the United States to further link up key economic hubs and provide more opportunities. (Of course, it’s also a geopolitical play on the last two governments’ part, but I digress.) I am heartened by how the development of the Clark airport is not done solely for itself and its own benefit, but rather contributing to the wider development of Luzon’s, and the Philippines’ logistics network.

Perhaps I can be forgiven in thinking that Clark is in a prime position to become the country’s primary air gateway? I have devoted many columns to the direction of our air transport networks – particularly the choice between developing Clark, redeveloping the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and building new facilities in Bulakan (the New Manila International Airport) and Sangley Point in Cavite.

I was lucky enough to be able to ask for some clarification during the open forum at the Central Luzon Transport and Trade Conference, and Luzon International Premiere Airport Development head Noel Manankil said that Clark is designed to primarily serve Filipinos in north and central Luzon.

I can see that. This will alleviate stress in NAIA, which has been operating over capacity for many years now. This will also open up the region to further economic opportunities, particularly when more flights arrive in Clark. And then there’s the fact that the distance between Manila and Clark is roughly a hundred kilometers, give or take. Expanded connectivity options aside, that’s a long distance between a major capital and its main airport. I’m not sure this is the case in any other country, at least in our region. Yeah, perhaps I feel jealous of Clark and its potential. Perhaps it’s my “imperial Manila” thinking.

That said, here’s what I’d like to see. I’d like to see investment in better connectivity from the north to Clark. The Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway is there, of course, and there are plans to extend it further up to La Union and perhaps to the Ilocos provinces as well. I know there are plans to build a parallel expressway serving the eastern part of the region, particularly the provinces of Cagayan and Nueva Vizcaya. And of course, I want rail connections, too. This will provide two wins: better access for Filipinos in the north to their gateway, and also, to Metro Manila – and vice versa. A promise long forgotten, perhaps to be finally realized. Just imagine that dreamed Taylor Swift concert in Clark, attended not just by Swifties in Manila.

There are many reasons why I am excited for Clark International Airport’s potential. There is also one question I can’t help but ask: will the New Manila International Airport be as integrated with existing and future infrastructure projects as Clark is right now? If not, we might be looking at a white elephant. I’d love to be proven wrong.

Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications director of SCMAP, and editor-in-chief of its official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.

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