The curse of NAIA

When Xiamen Air flight MF8667 veered off Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s (NAIA) runway on 16 August, it exposed its vulnerability to an airline catastrophe and the desperate state of what is still the country’s main international gateway.

It was 70 years ago when Manila’s airport, which used to be called the Nielson Airport (the runways of which are now Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas), was moved from Makati to what was formerly called the Nichols Field in the Pasay-Paranaque area.

Formerly known as the Manila International Airport, it was renamed after former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. on 10 December 1987 by virtue of Republic Act 6639. This was done to memorialize the final flight taken by Aquino Jr. which ended in his assassination. (To this day, after the presidencies of his widow Cory and son Noynoy, people are still uncertain about who killed Ninoy).

What made me realize how close we were to having a catastrophic airline disaster was a depiction of the accident posted on Facebook by a fellow journalist who regularly plays flight simulation games and tracks flights over Metro Manila for fun.

In that Facebook post, he said: “…had it (Xiamen Air flight MF8667) veered just a little more forcefully to the left, it could have ploughed into a dense residential area at midnight.

Thank goodness for small mercies. Time to decommission NAIA, I think.”

He admits he is a pseudo expert as far as the hypothetical airline disaster is concerned, but still his status update brings home the idea of decommissioning NAIA — at least for me.

Seventy years ago, we didn’t have to worry about airplanes landing on houses and potentially killing people in the middle of the night. Today, however, dense residential areas surround the airport.

Moreover, there is also the argument that says removing Manila’s international airport from its current location would create a new prime business district to rival Bonifacio Global City and Makati.

But where would we build the new Metro Manila Airport?

In the last half of former President Noynoy Aquino’s term and during the first few months of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration came two “proposals” for new international airports to replace NAIA.

One was San Miguel Corporation’s Bulacan, Bulacan airport which was reportedly offered at P735 billion and the other was the Sangley airport which was offered at P 763 billion by real estate tycoon Henry Sy together with Solar Entertainment’s Wilson Tieng.

Of course, moving Manila’s international airport is not the only option.

The superconsortium of Ayala, Aboitiz, Lucio Tan, Andrew Tan, John Gokongwei, Gotianun Group and Manny Pangilinan proposed to build a second NAIA runway, expand and link the three airport terminals. Also in the running is GMR-Megawide’s proposal (Cebu airport operator) to enhance NAIA’s efficiency but not by building another runway.

All good proposals, I would say, compared to being stuck with NAIA as it is now. But what’s keeping Department of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade from finally making a move?

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