Soaring dream, crashing reality
IT is well that Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Alfonso Cusi has given “additional guidance” to the Naia Time Slotting Committee to give priority to review the scheduling of small-aircraft flights at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia), in light of recurring problems of runway congestion that aggravate an already problematic situation for aviation in general.
Cusi recently asked Gen. Ruben Ciron, chief of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), “to consider the utilization of Naia’s domestic runway, runway 13-31, during daytime for aircraft weighing 25,000 kilograms and below.”
He explained the rationale for the decision: “Aircraft like these are usually owned by operators at our general aviation, therefore, would be most logical to make them use the domestic runway for landing and takeoff. In so doing, we can maximize the use of the international runway for commercial operations.”
The Philippines is the only Asian country that has only one international runway (runway 24) at its premier airport, thus disrupting so many international flights when even just a single incident occurs on that runway.
In the latest incident, Cusi reported that at about 8 p.m. on Sunday, a Westwind-II aircraft with registry number N-911GU aborted takeoff at Naia’s international runway after the pilot noticed smoke emanating from its left wheel. Rescue teams were quickly deployed to the site, but heavy rains delayed their work.
But whether the rains are pouring or not, the fact that there’s only one international runway is a real constraint.
Disruptions to flights owing to this congestion compound the already problematic situation in general, as this paper’s aviation reporter, Recto Mercene, had long been writing about. As a result, air-traffic control has to use a “bag of tricks” in order to ensure the safety of all flights going into and out of Manila, i.e., imposing longer separation times between flights during peak seasons or holidays like Christmas and New Year. Again, the bottom line: Flights are delayed because—rightly so—air-traffic controllers must pick safety over convenience.
But the point is that if the necessary hardware are budgeted for and actually installed, so many of the problems faced by aviation personnel could be reduced. For instance, in Sunday night’s fiasco, it turns out the air ambulance was not an exception: Small aircraft are routinely deployed to runway 24 (the sole international runway) because domestic runway 13-31 cannot be used after sundown. The excuse: It’s “not an instrument runway,” and can only be used for visual flight rules. Sources said efforts to install an instrument system at runway 13-31 ran into technical snags a few years ago, and no one, it seems, has bothered to review the problem.
And, speaking of personnel, it’s been nearly a year since Congress passed the CAAP law, but the latest word is that reforms to boost staffing morale and competence are proceeding slowly. The problem of getting, training and keeping competent airmen is thus something that won’t go away soon.
Taken together, these persistent problems are bound to affect our status as an aviation center—or derail hopes to reverse the dismal Category 2 status imposed by international bodies.
Reacting to Cusi’s move to review the runway slotting system, MIAA Airport Development and Corporate Affairs Assistant General Manager Tirso Serrano was quoted saying: “This move is intended to likewise increase terminal capacities for Naia Terminals 1, 2 and 3. With the recent opening of NAIA Terminal 3, we have increased our potential to 32 million passengers a year.” Between that potential and fruition is a wide chasm that requires, among others: the political will and a clear, unified vision among turf-conscious aviation agencies, and the budget to obtain crucial hardware and pay aviation personnel salaries they deserve.