Potential potholes hinder Clark's expansion plan

Suffers connection and likability problems

January 27, 2010

Manilla's Clark International airport has embarked on a 550 million pesos ($12 million) expansion plan to attract more carriers and become the second international gateway into the Philippines.

To be completed in May, the expansion will add a second storey, arrival and departure lounges, and three aerobridges to the terminal building. "We want to attract more airlines, particularly full-service carriers, but they want amenities like lounges," says Clark's president and chief executive Victor Jose Luciano.

Most of the seven passenger airlines serving Clark are low-cost carriers. The expansion will boost Clark's capacity to five million from two million.

A second terminal for Clark is also planned. The airport is evaluating proposals from potential joint venture partners and expects to make an announcement soon. It will take two years to construct a second terminal, says Luciano.

Clark is hoping to become the country's second international gateway. Manila's Ninoy Aquino International airport handled 22 million passengers in 2008, and the industry believes it will soon reach its capacity of 32 million.

However, there are potential potholes on Clark's journey to become the alternative airport.

The airport is a 2 hour drive along congested streets from Manila's business district. While the government has plans to build a high-speed railway to link the two airports, this will take 10 years.

"The railway needs to be there to make Clark into a premier airport. There should be a serious effort from the government to ensure that another international airport is constructed within three to five years," says Philippine Airlines' president Jaime Bautista.

Others have pointed out that launching a wide-ranging expansion might not be the way to go, and they have questioned how quickly Clark will be able to expand its capabilities.

Cebu Pacific chief executive Lance Gokongwei says: "I will be cautious against expanding Clark to something that will not generate adequate returns."

Ninoy Aquino International airport's assistant general manager Tirso Serrano says: "For it to be a viable gateway, you need two major successes: better connectivity to Clark, and industry acceptance."

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