Traffic in the air

If gridlock on the streets bedevils us in Metro Manila, and even Metro Cebu, think about traffic in the air as well.

Ours is a nation of islands, which makes travel by land cumbersome. The few Roros that are available, which connect Luzon through Bicol and on to Eastern Visayas and Mindanao, takes days. So does going the western seaboard route, which services mostly cargo from Panay to Metro Manila via Batangas.

In this day and age, air travel is the only way to connect to our islands, whether for business or leisure. Unfortunately, government has been unprepared for the quantum leap in domestic travel.

Our airport terminals (four if you include the small domestic terminal now used by budget airlines) are so congested that there are times when passengers have to sit on the floor while waiting for their delayed planes. Ground services are appalling.

To top it all, all incoming and outgoing planes from Naia Terminals 1 to 4 plus private planes using general aviation have to use one runway. There are times when you have to wait for almost an hour inside the plane as it queues for that precious privilege to take-off, after being No. 7 or so in the priority list. And then again, you sometimes worry about encircling Metro Manila several times before being allowed to land, not only because your timetable is delayed, but heaven forbid if a pilot miscalculation might get one plane colliding with another as they both circle above.

So what can be done?

Public-Private Partnership proponents as well as Department of Transportation and Communications “thinkers” have been talking about so many options:

(1) Clark in Pampanga as an alternative international airport. It has two parallel runways, but because these were designed by the American military for fighter jets, they are quite close together, so verily you can use only one runway at a time for today’s big planes. Besides, you need to hasten the travel time between Mabalacat to Manila, which is about 80 kilometers apart. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo unveiled a North Rail project, but that has gone to seed due to corruption allegations and resulting judicial delays;

(2) Sangley in Cavite, a proposal favored by DOTC’s Abaya. It will require lengthening the present runway, also a hand-me-down from the American naval base, and a connecting highway from Cavite City to Parañaque, although Cavitex has shortened this to Kawit;

(3) Ramon Ang’s proposal. The top honcho of San Miguel has proposed building a super-structure of four parallel runways on reclaimed and yet-to-be-reclaimed land in Manila Bay itself, fronting Las Piñas, part of which is the scandal-rendered PEA-Amari reclamation project which he salvaged from the Thai partners of Filipino quick-buck artists.

This writer, being no expert in the field, could only hope that the new government decides soon on which of the three options, or more, could be jumpstarted to serve our fast-increasing air travel requirements in the coming five-, 10-, even 50-year period.

Meanwhile, what could be done to relieve the present congestion in our Naia gateway with its single runway (to be precise, there is a short perpendicular runway which is hardly ever utilized)? That is, while waiting for a more long-term solution.

For starters, why not remove all general aviation from the airport complex? Private plane owners with their private hangars can be made to relocate, whether in Sangley for the meantime, or Fernando Airbase in Lipa, or even Plaridel in Bulacan. And either travel by chopper from Metro Manila or by land, for all the commercial air-travel consumer could care.

Now that will take great political will, because the general aviation users are the rich and famous, the oligarchs, economic and political, who control our rent economy, but then again, if Digong Duterte can’t make them move, no one else can.

That should relieve runway use by some 15 percent of load. Which is not enough.

Then again, there are short-haul domestic flights which use smaller planes. They require a shorter runway, say 2.2 or 2.5 kilometers. Now how about constructing another runway for such traffic somewhere in the Parañaque-Las Piñas vicinity? If government has to entice private subdivision dwellers to move to other parts, and meanwhile relieve themselves of the noise emanating from plane take-offs and landings, why not? Surely there are other open spaces nearby which can substitute for their present dwellings, with enough inducement from government?

If we can do that, we relieve the present Naia runway of another 30 percent to 35 percent of its current traffic.

Meanwhile, we should plan, bid, and build an international airport that could serve our air traffic needs for the next 50 years, just as Japan did with Narita, Hongkong with Chep Lap Kok, Singapore with Changi, and even faraway Kazakhstan has done.

It’s all about planning and the corresponding political will to get things done. Seeing beyond the tip of one’s nose, and thinking beyond the needs of the present into a future that takes shape so fast. And most of all, displaying utmost political will —the kind that Rodrigo Duterte promised when he said “change is coming.”

Source: The Standard