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Philippine Airlines scales back ops at Ninoy Aquino, signals development of new Sangley Intl. Airport

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Congestion issues at Manila’s main international gateway Ninoy Aquino International Airport is reaching breaking point for flag carrier Philippine Airlines – with the company looking to shift several domestic routes to Clark Airport in the interim and pushing for the development of Sangley International Airport about 1 hour away from the capital city in Cavite.

PR’s Chief Operating Officer Jaime Bautista has given an interview where he mentioned the possibility of moving some domestic flights from PAL’s operations at T2 in Manila to the (relatively) newly constructed airport in Clark.

On an overall basis Philippine Airlines domestic operations from MNL account for about 18% of air traffic movement from the airport. Moving certain non-trunk or feeder routes from the airport might go a long way to temporarily solve the ridiculous congestion issues Manila is facing at the moment.

Bautista also mentioned petitioning the government to upgrade several regional airports with ‘larger’ operations to equip them with landing lights and more servicble ILS options so flights can operate past sunset as well. This will also help to free up ‘rush hour’ queues at the airport, with current holding times in the early afternoon estimated to be anywhere from twenty minutes up to one hour.

To help ease the burden general avaition flights will also be moved by the government from NAIA T4 to Sangley Airport before year’s end – Manila’s current runway capacity can handle up to 40 take offs and landings per hour, of which about 5-6 are general aviation movements. Again, this will help ease congestion during peak hours.

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There is still much to be done and options are dwindling by the month as the Philippine government twaddles on a sustainable long term plan for expanding the country’s main international gateway. There is no room for the current airport to expand within the city – the only two feasible options are either building out Clark Air Force Base, which is currently home to an array of LLC activity in the form of Philippines Air Asia Zest, Tigerair and other regional carriers such as Cathay Dragon to Hong Kong. The other option is to actively pursue the expansion of Sangley which will require a similar capital investment to that of the Clark plan. Both airport plans will entail a lot of infrastructure investment however – both locations are outside of Manila city itself, and will need high speed transit in the form of a rail option and an expressway that can bypass the city’s notoriously bad traffic.

What’s also important to note that Philippine Airlines’ ability to grow as a carrier into an actual relevant player in a region already flooded with top class airlines – and its ability to sell itself as a carrier capable of handling connections – both domestic and international – will greatly hinge upon some massive infrastructure upgrades at its home base of Manila. At the moment its a herculean task to even move between terminals which is a ridiculous comment to be making in 2016. Without these moves by the government Philippine Airlines will continue to be left behind in the industry, toiling with the consolidator, bottom of the barrel, low yielding labor market fares that they charge to and from the Philippines and beyond. It is not a sustainable long term strategy for the airline which is made all the more depressing by the fact that PR is actually Asia’s oldest airline.

Either way, the fruition of any of these projects are some time off. In the meantime passengers will have to deal with consistent delays in the afternoon from any departing or arrival international flight, dilapidated terminals (which include the ‘newly’ built T3) and a crumbling infrastructure that’s bursting at the seams, operating at near 200% capacity.

Its no wonder that Ninoy Aquino International Airport is routinely ranked amongst the worst in the world. Can the new government do something about that?

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