Monday, October 25, 2021

Up In the Air

Last week it was confirmed that San Miguel Corporation will go ahead with construction of a state-of-the-art airport in Bulakan, Bulacan, after the Swiss challenge set by government saw no other bidders emerge. The project, which is estimated to cost P735 billion, is poised to become the country’s biggest airport, with four runways and an initial passenger capacity of 100 million, which SMC says can be doubled when need be.


The project, inevitably, will be seen as the solution to the long-standing woes of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, which for the past few years has been operating beyond its capacity. (Arriving in Manila has felt more of a tedious chore than a welcome hug at this point—and I say this both from a convenience and aesthetic point of view.) As an inner-city airport, it’s been limited in its expansion. It certainly hasn’t been able to keep up with increased interest in the country, both from business and tourists alike; while efforts are underway to develop other international hubs—particularly Cebu, Clark and Davao—most would still go to NAIA, being the gateway to the country’s most important economic hub.


All this brings to mind, once again, all these efforts to address what it seen as a shortcoming in our major air gateway. We have the Bulakan airport, with groundbreaking scheduled for later this year. We have Sangley Point in Cavite, which some parties are envisioning as another air and sea hub—and which has returned to the headlines after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the move of some flights to the former military base. We have ambitious plans for Clark to expand its capacity to up to 80 million passengers annually. Finally, there’s also a proposal to rejuvenate NAIA—albeit the government seems intent to close the airport after two decades or so.


These efforts—from the public and private sectors, a recognition that we have to solve this soon—are welcome, of course. Yet, again, I can’t help but be confused about where we are heading when it comes to our airports. My impression is that these efforts have been hatched independently and, as they are up in the air, are not thoroughly coordinated to ensure maximum service at optimal cost. Okay, that sounded a bit too technocratic, but think about it. Thought exercise: imagine we have four airports serving greater Manila. (I know this isn’t probable, but stick with me.) How much money will we be spending to build and operate those airports? And more importantly, will all of them be viable in the long run, or will these facilities be underutilized and, eventually, left to disrepair?


And it’s not just about the airports, but the whole ecosystem, ensuring that both passengers and businesses can truly make the most of these facilities. The SMC proposal includes an 8.4-kilometer toll road that connects to the North Luzon Expressway (also operated by SMC). It doesn’t quite solve the whole mobility issue, provided there’s a good chunk of passengers from the southern part of Metro Manila and beyond (disclosure: I am one of them) who will have to slug through all that traffic just to get to their flights in time. Sure, there’s the Skyway Stage 3, but I imagine it’ll be congested too, like other road projects. Maybe we should ask for a rail connection—much like the one stakeholders have said is needed in Clark, much like the ones I’ve used in Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong—which guarantees both passenger convenience and comfort. Luggage check-in facilities, good seats… but then, the only proposal I’ve seen to provide a rail connection to any of these airports is a subway station at NAIA, and that won’t open until roughly six years from now.


We really need a cohesive, holistic transport policy, one that both addresses individual capacity gaps on our roads, in our airports and seaports, and in our buses and jeeps, and recognizes the interconnectivity of these different modes of transport, both for businesses and passengers alike. This would ensure that our transport networks truly serve its stakeholders at the best possible cost—and, on a weekend where people were stranded yet again by sudden rains, networks that can be used in most, if not all, conditions. Otherwise, we’d have a four-runway air gateway that’s an expensive white elephant. It may look good, but I’m not sure that’s the legacy you want to leave behind.


Sharpening the Supply Chain Practitioners: SCMAP Visayas’ flagship event returns on August 23 at the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino. Speaking are Geeken Goden of Lalamove, John Raymundo of SAP, Rochelle Gonzaga of Northpoint and Third Librea of P&A Grant Thornton. Registration and sponsorship details are available at


General Membership Meeting: Our next General Membership Meeting is set for August 15 at the EDSA Shangri-la Manila in Mandaluyong. We will be tackling connectivity and supply chain, in light of the awarding of the third telecom franchise. More information, as always, at


Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications executive of SCMAP. A former board director, he is also editor-in-chief of the organization’s official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at



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