Duterte mulls revamp of airport management
MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte is eyeing a revamp of officials at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) after expressing dismay over delays in international and domestic flights, purportedly due to a lightning advisory, last weekend.
A “red lightning alert,” when issued by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), usually stops all tarmac operations to protect the lives of ground workers at the NAIA. This system was adopted after a ground crew was struck dead by a lightning bolt at the NAIA Terminal 3 almost two years ago.
“He expressed dismay and hinted at its revamp,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said, narrating how the President relayed to Cabinet members the details of his surprise visit at the NAIA early Monday morning.
Aside from sharing his assessment, Duterte wanted airport security to be handled by a single entity, either from the uniformed services or civilian forces, Panelo said.
Duterte last Monday night presided over the 38th Cabinet meeting, which lasted about eight hours or until about 2 a.m. yesterday, at the Aguinaldo State Dining Room at Malacañang.
At the meeting, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade detailed proposals to convert Sangley Point, also known as the Danilo Atienza Air Base, into a general aviation hub to accommodate domestic flights.
The plan would reportedly ease congestion at the NAIA.
Tugade also allegedly told the Cabinet that he had already initiated the testing of ferries that can operate from the Mall of Asia to Sangley in 18-24 minutes.
“The President directed the operations at Sangley Point to start immediately,” said Panelo, who clarified that the term “immediately” means by November this year.
Reports said the Department of Transportation (DOTr) has been pushing for plans to move the general aviation flights to Sangley by yearend as it targets to wrap up the P500-million rehabilitation works at the former military base. When done, the business jets operating to and from the NAIA would be relocated there.
Aside from this, the Cavite provincial government has been working on its proposal to develop Sangley as a new international airport that could serve as an alternative to the NAIA.
Tugade, in July last year, gave this unsolicited government proposal a midyear deadline, which Gov. Jesus Crispin Remulla said might be too tight to meet.
Remulla gave assurance though that they are doing everything they can to comply with the requirements and are pursuing all avenues to push the airport project.
This came after the DOTr shelved the Tieng-led All Asia Resources and Reclamation Corp.’s offer to finance, construct and develop a new airport for $12 billion. The group proposed to make the airport a regional hub that could accommodate about 120 million passengers per year. It also wanted a concession period of 50 years.
Tugade reported to the Cabinet the DOTr plan to revive the idle Subic Airport and use it also as a business jet hub to further decongest air traffic at the country’s main international gateway.
Red lightning alert
Duterte paid the NAIA terminals a surprise visit before dawn last Monday. It was during that time that he talked with airline and NAIA officials regarding the flight cancellations and delays.
He also asked whether there were flight diversions, if the affected passengers were given incentives to ease inconvenience, how flight aberrations could be minimized and what actions the government, particularly the DOTr, could do to solve the problem in the long term.
A Philippine Airlines manager and a NAIA-Terminal 2 airport duty manager briefed the President on the flight woes and explained actions being undertaken to normalize the situation.
Yesterday, Ramp Control Terminal 1 chief Alger Ramo explained that the airport operation was stopped for nearly four hours or from 7 p.m. until about 11 p.m. last Sunday after the issuance of the red lightning alert, which is given only after an intense lightning activity is detected within a nine-kilometer radius of the NAIA.
All airport activities were suspended during the duration of the alert and all departures were told to stand by at the NAIA while arriving aircraft were diverted to Clark International Airport for safety, he added.?Ramo noted that the yellow and red lightning alert scheme was adopted almost two years ago following the death of an employee who was struck by lightning on the tarmac of Terminal 3.?Marygrace Cristi, PAGASA’s chief of Aeronautical and Meteorological Service Section at NAIA, said the Lightning Activity System (LAS) was formalized last year to guide them on which alert to raise.
“Yellow means the thunderstorm is more than nine kilometers away from the airport and the airport operation continues. However, when the thunderstorm, accompanied by intense lightning activity, is within nine miles from the NAIA, we raise the red alarm to stop airport ground operations,” she explained.
Ramo and Cristi said NAIA was in that scenario when Duterte visited the airport and witnessed how the work stoppage affected the flights and passengers. – With Rudy Santos