Bulacan, Maybe?

$500-M new PAL airport sets off guessing game

September 2, 2012

By Recto L. Mercene

WHEN Philippine Airlines (PAL) President Ramon S. Ang announced before the weekend that they will build a $500-million airport as an alternative to the congested Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia), he did not say where the new facility would be located but hinted that it would be about 15 minutes away from the Ayala business center in Makati City and would sit on a 2,000-hectare property.

Why the secrecy? Is it because he does not want speculators to grab surrounding real estate, whose value would zoom to the skies, and make real-state dealers instant millionaires?

Ang’s conundrum sent the media into a guessing spree.

Try as we can, we could not envision a place that is that big, or wide enough to accommodate an airport complex, with two runways that could handle 150 flights per hour.

Ang said the site for the $500-million airport could accommodate up to four runways, and that they would present their plan to President Aquino in January or February next year.

A source helped us figure it out where the PAL president could be coming from, telling the BusinessMirror over the weekend that the new $500-million PAL airport might find a home in Binangonan, Rizal.

The highly reliable source said the coastal town of Binangonan figured in a study made by the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) almost 10 years ago as a possible site for a new modern airport. He added that nothing much about the study has been heard since.

The source said the possible site has an area of a little more than 2,000 hectares. He could be referring to a 2,170-hectare property in Bina­ngonan that belongs to IRC Properties Inc.

According to the IRC web site, the property lies about 20 kilometers east of Metro Manila in what is “envisioned to be the next growth corridor, where major business and economic activities would take place.”
The company has prepared a master plan for the land.

Its web site said, “The plan, formulated by Palafox and Associates, draws up a multiple land-use program characterized by a balanced and [complementary] mix of industrial, agro-industrial, commercial, residential, recreational and institutional projects. Feasibility studies, architectural and engineering plans for the low- and medium-cost housing projects have also been prepared.”

But, IRC said, a “very weak and greatly affected real-estate market continuing up to 2002” prompted it to suspend “development and clearing activities” until the property market becomes active again.

The first thing that came to mind as to where the new airport facility will be built was not Binangonan but Sangley Point in Cavite, home to the Air Force 15th Strike Wing. It is about 15 minutes away from the Ayala business center by helicopter, it has an existing runway built by the American military, and a little reclamation of Manila Bay would increase its present 140 hectares to one that could equal Hong Kong’s Chep Lap Kok Airport, or Singapore’s Changi International Airport.

Sangley is one of the few remaining military assets, out of the 23 facilities that the Americans left when they withdrew from the Philippines in 1991. It used to be the home of a squadron of P-3 Orion “submarine hunters.”

The other former US facilities are Clark Air Base, now the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport; Subic Naval Base, now the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority; and Mactan Air Base, now the Mactan-Cebu International Airport.

Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap) air-traffic controllers from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) exercise jurisdiction over Sangley air traffic, so there is no conflict at all regarding their simultaneous operations.

A newspaper reader suggested that since the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA), formerly the Philippine Estate Authority (PEA), is reclaiming 635 hectares of Manila Bay, the money spent could be used to realign the reclamation so that a modern airport could be built at the Naic, Cavite, side and spare the Las Piñas-Parañaque Coastal Lagoon, where a bird sanctuary is located.

The reader said, “Sangley’s 138 hectares, plus the planned 635 hectares to be reclaimed, will be a little bigger than half of Changi in Singapore and that of Chek Lap Kok in Hong Kong.”
A total area of 773 hectares is more than enough to host a modest but modern, safe and accessible airport of world standard, the reader opined.

The reader said that half of the present facilities of the Manila International Airport Authority (Miaa) can be operated as a domestic airport and half as a commercial center to complement Megaworld.

“To avoid traffic congestion, the domestic airport must be linked to Sangley from Terminal 3 via Pagcor Entertainment City by a monorail on a viaduct or a tunnel. Fast-craft ferries can double as Manila Bay Tour and serve the transportation needs of the new airport from the Mall of Asia harbor, which could also be developed into a central transport terminal for the convenience of passengers.”

Several other groups earlier suggested turning Sangley Point as alternative to the Naia, but the government simply would not listen.

Newly appointed Interior Secretary and former Transportation top honcho Manuel Roxas II said during his stint at the Department of Transportation and Communications that Sangley Point cannot be a viable alternative to the Naia.

According to Roxas, expanding Sangley Point airport to allow the layout of another parallel and independent runway would entail reclamation of a huge swath of Manila Bay in Manila and Cavite.

“Sangley is probably going to be a single-runway facility for GenAv [general aviation],” he said, adding that reclaiming a large tract would only equal the area now occupied by the Naia, which proves to be “too small to allow two parallel and independent runways.”

Roxas said Clark is still “the long-term alternative” with its available 2,000 hectares that could accommodate up to three parallel independent runways.

Making Clark airport as the main gateway, however, requires a fast rail access to Metro Manila.
This is the same objection voiced by Ang, who said plans for a $10-billion fast train to connect Makati and Clark is not practical.

Since Sangley remains a poor choice, that leaves the 2,000-hectare San Miguel property in San Jose City, Bulacan, the best alternative for an international airport, according to an airport source.
The source said that for years, it is a little-known secret that San Miguel has been offering its San Jose City, Bulacan, property as an alternative airport to the then-Air Transportation Office  (ATO), Caap’s forerunner. But nothing came out of it after the ATO was abolished.

There are certain problems that would have to be addressed before the runways are built, but knowing that Ang appears to enjoy a degree of closeness to the Aquino administration, these problems are “not insurmountable,” the source added.

Constructing an airport complex, including the runway, is not just building any infrastructure.
The source said that normally, a 10-year compilation of the site’s wind direction and velocity, rainfall, precipitation and several other weather parameters would have to be studied, in order to determine the runway’s feasibility and eventual layout.

“What good is a runway if most of the year, the airport is drenched with rain, has poor visibility, adjacent to mountains or man-made obstacles? What if airplanes are buffeted by strong crosswind during landing and takeoff?” he asked.

As an example, the source pointed out that the east-west layout of the Naia is not accidental. It is also not an accident that it is located where it is now, when Metro Manila is usually drenched by rain, and yet the airport is usually rain-free in more days than other places in Metro Manila.

The Naia runways straddle the Pasay City-Parañaque City area and is usually affected by the northeast monsoon and the southwest monsoon or habagat, blowing almost equally from the northeast and southwest directions during the year.

The source, an aviation expert, said airplanes sometimes take off toward Antipolo, Rizal, in a northeasterly direction using Runway 06. “060” degrees is the northeasterly bearing of Runway 06 starting from the Parañaque side toward Antipolo, while airplanes taking off on Runway 24 on a southwesterly direction, hence the bearing is 240 degrees, starting from the South Luzon Expressway side toward Parañaque.
That is how Runway 06-24 is named, the source said.

But why is there a Runway 13-31 running in the north-south direction?

The airport expert said in the early days of aviation, when most airliners are small, airplanes have to land and take off directly into the wind because they could not handle strong crosswinds, so the choice was either Runway 06-24 or Runway 13-31, depending on the wind direction and velocity.

Today, jumbo jets can withstand 15-knot crosswinds, which would sweep off the runway smaller airplanes.
Another obstacle that Ang had to face is an existing CAAP regulation that says no international airport should be built within 24 kilometers of an existing international airport.

San Jose City, Bulacan, if this is where Ang’s airport is finally built, sits at the south side of the province and shares a common boundary with Metro Manila and Rizal. It is yet to be determined whether it is within the 24-kilometer-limit of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA).

The aviation expert, who said a long study was needed before any new airport could be built, noted that it is now the norm for private firms to run an airport complex. Formerly a ranking Caap official, he also cited findings showing that government-run airports could not keep up with developments and usually run into red ink, unless subsidized by the government.

Although Changi in Singapore and Chep Lap Kok in Hong Kong are run by government-owned and -controlled corporations, the expert said, airports in New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Germany (Frankfurt Airport) and many others are privately operated and proved to be financially successful.

A version of this article appeared on September 1, 2012 edition of the Philippine Business Mirror, with the headline: $500-M new PAL airport sets off guessing game.

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