Revisiting The NAIA Masterplan

15 September 2016

By Architect Felino A. Palafox, Jr.
(First published in Manila Standard)

In the archive of our library, the 2004 Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) master plan waits to be reread, and hopefully be realized in physical form. NAIA was once known as the gateway of Asia Pacific and one of the best airports in Asia. But sadly, it failed to cope with new challenges like deterioration, appeasing new passenger needs, and adapting to the increasing use of the terminals and airport runways.

In 2004, it was projected that the Manila International Airport will become one of the busiest in the South East Asian Region. The Philippines was well ahead, most especially in terms of having a competitive Information and Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure. The Philippines had the chance to regain its recognition as the gateway and business hub of the Asia Pacific. With the lead of Palafox Associates, the Manila International Airport and the surrounding city was envisioned to become an Aerotropolis or airport-driven city. There will be seamless integration of the three terminals, and it will be able to accommodate expected air traffic and passenger arrival until 2025. There will be a strong industry in cargo distribution, and commercial development will properly integrate with the terminal without causing catastrophic land vehicular congestion in the periphery of the airport.

In 2004, Palafox Associates along with two other companies submitted the NAIA master plan. It was a reimagining of what the airport can become. Today, the country is feeling the consequence of a “do nothing” scenario, as the plan was not implemented.

After so much delays and controversies, I think that this administration has the opportunity to set things right. As we wait for the planned transit system that will connect Clark International Airport to Metro Manila, and the emergence of the Clark Aerotropolis, let me share some ideas that are feasible, implementable, and will hopefully alleviate the condition of the Manila International Airport.

Reimagining the airport for the 21st century
The airport is a gateway to a country; it is a front door. For any foreigner and returning Filipino expatriates the airport is where they will first set foot in the country. It is a welcome mat of our hospitality, character, culture and identity. Before you become an investor, you must first be a satisfied tourist.

In 2015, there were 36 million passengers. It also means that the airport had the opportunity to showcase the entire country to millions of visitors. Inside the terminals, long walkways and waiting areas are places that give us an opportunity to present the beautiful islands and destinations of our country, as well as an opportunity to show the world-class craftsmanship of our artists, among others. As passengers are walking, there could be high-tech, digital screens that show the beauty of our country. There can be also interactive public art, sponsored by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. The potential is limitless.

Airports should be appreciated through the light of holistic planning and holistic passenger experience and consumer journey, not only airport congestion. Same as traffic, congestion is a symptom of a confluence of issues, but ultimately is a symptom of poor design and management.

The consumer journey: Design and planning
In the 2004 NAIA Master Plan, all of the terminals are designed to have seamless integration, connectivity and access. Currently, it feels as if these are different entities. On the other hand, airport hotels and commercial districts are woven with the airport, but of course with strategic access points for airline passengers, as well as security checkpoints. Certain areas of the airport will be dedicated for airplane parking, and it will be expanded to accommodate the congestion of the runway. Nearby, at the former site of Nayong Pilipino, an ICT park is imagined to rise, to showcase and to aid the technological needs of the airport terminal.

If there is a way to connect the current commercial establishments outside the terminal to be integrated as an airport terminal lobby, well-wishers and passengers can spend their time there. The entire airport terminal can only be accessed by passengers, for safety reasons. The passengers will then be transported from the airport lobby via a connected electric tram or Bus Transit.

The convergence of people, passengers, and guests can be done in the commercial areas. And special transport hubs from the commercial areas/lobby will escort passengers towards the terminal. With this kind of set-up, the terminals will save a lot of space.

Inside the terminals, we can take inspiration from Japan. Beautifully designed, futuristic looking sleeping pods and reading nooks are available for passengers. Instead of the passengers rushing or waiting along the floor, these facilities are aesthetically designed to influence or to entice the passengers to use it. There should also be a lounge dedicated to PWDs and the elderly, and airport certified personnel will assist for boarding.

The current administration should not only address airport congestion, but also be mindful of the value that airport terminals bring to culture, business, and possibly entertainment. A pleasing journey will entice loyal customers.


  1. Unfortunately, we won't be seeing a world-class airport. Like NEVER! Change the name already to Manila International Airport. That would be a good start.

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