MANILA, Philippines — The privatization of operations of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) anticipates the potential growth of tourism as it will improve the airport experience for tourists, according to Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion.
“I am glad that (Department of Transportation) Sec. Bautista supports the privatization of NAIA,” Concepcion said over the weekend, referring to the recent confirmation by Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista that the government is preparing to privatize NAIA.
“Our airports create the first impression of our country, and since tourism has one of the biggest potentials for growing our economy, any improvement made here will redound to so many benefits,” Concepcion said.
During an inquiry of the Senate public services committee into the Jan. 1 airspace shutdown, Bautista confirmed that the government is
planning to privatize the airport.
He added that the government is open to solicited or unsolicited proposals, but cited a preference for the former.
The transportation secretary explained that the NAIA has already exceeded its rated capacity and needs to be improved and modernized.
Concepcion said that the lockdown created financial problems for micro, small and medium enterprises in the tourism sector, and that efforts must now be focused on helping the sector.
“In my meeting with Sec. Frasco, we discussed how we can help our MSMEs prepare for the tourism boom. We still have, by far, the best beaches and one of the most welcoming people in the world,” he said, referring to Tourism Secretary Cristina Frasco.
Concepcion said that the biggest assist for the sector can come from making it easy for people who fly in and out of the NAIA.
“The airport experience must be improved, not just for the tourists but also for the OFWs who have only a few days to spend with their families here,” he said.
“An efficient airport will also ensure they will be able to make it back in time to their employers and keep their jobs,” he added.
Earlier this month, Concepcion suggested reviving the private sector proposal to modernize NAIA after an airport glitch that halted all air travel within the country’s airspace.
“NAIA is strategically located and any improvements made here will redound to so many benefits to the country,” Concepcion said.
He emphasized that any inefficiencies in the NAIA translate to big losses in business down the line and are felt throughout the country.
“I believed then, as I do now, that the private sector can contribute so much if allowed to participate,” he added.
On New Year’s Day, thousands of travelers were stranded at Philippine airports after a “loss of communication” as the country’s busiest hub in Manila forced hundreds of flights to be canceled, delayed or diverted.
Aviation authorities detected in the morning a “technical issue” involving the air traffic management center or ATMC at Manila’s domestic and international airport.
“Having seen how badly key systems in our air transportation system need to be modernized, and how severely any glitch can affect the whole country, I hope that this time, we can revive this proposal and see it through,” Concepcion said, referring to a proposal made by a private sector consortium in 2018.
To recall, a consortium comprised of some of the country’s biggest conglomerates – Aboitiz InfraCapital Inc., AC Infrastructure Holdings Corp., Alliance Global Group Inc., Asia’s Emerging Dragon Corp., Filinvest Development Corp., JG Summit Holdings Inc. and Metro Pacific Investments Corp. – made a proposal for the modernization of the NAIA.
Under the consortium’s proposal, NAIA will have a 20 percent increase in efficiency, pushing it to become a world-class gateway at par with the world’s best airports. In addition, there were no government guarantees, and no moratorium on the construction of another major airport.
In 2018, the consortium’s unsolicited proposal was recommended for approval by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to the Manila International Airport Authority, the primary government agency for the project.
By August that year, the consortium secured from the Philippine government an original proponent status for its plan to rehabilitate the NAIA. It was approved by the National Economic and Development Authority board in November 2019.
However, in March 2020, then-DOTr secretary Arthur Tugade said he will cancel the unsolicited proposal and offer it to parties that are ready to accept the government’s terms and conditions if a deal is not finalized.
In July 2020, the consortium withdrew the proposal due to unresolved issues with the government.
“All of the conglomerates were interested in seeing the project push through,” Concepcion said, adding that it would have been good for their respective businesses, such as in air travel, real estate or retail.
“We were all in agreement that connectivity is important, and even the tycoons who were not formally part of the group pitched in to see how they can help,” he added.
Organized labor links NAIA glitch to privatization
Organized labor yesterday linked the recent airspace shutdown to the planned privatization of the NAIA.
Labor coalition Nagkaisa said the glitch may have been machinated to build up support for the conversion of NAIA into a private airport.
“So, it’s not really the Aquino name that the administration seeks to change in the airport but the character itself, with the President giving his go signal for NAIA’s privatization,” Nagkaisa said in a statement.
President Marcos previously gave the go signal for NAIA’s privatization within the year.
Nagkaisa opposed the privatization plan, saying it is not an all-out solution to public transportation problems.
According to Nagkaisa, successful public transportation systems, including the best airports around the world remain owned and controlled by the state.
The group stressed that government-owned and controlled airports provide not just affordable and efficient transportation options for the public but also as a vital source of public employment.
It further noted that quality and efficient operations of any public utility is not simply a function of modern machines and equipment, but also of competent managers and most importantly, by a regular and protected workforce.
“We also regret to learn about CAAP employing some 7,000 non-regular workers, but won’t support the position of Senator (Joel) Villanueva that privatization can address this problem of endo in the aviation industry. It’s the reverse that will happen as in every privatization program, it is labor that is first to go or outsourced to third-party service providers,” the coalition said.
What the country needs at this time, Nagkaisa said, is strong, accountable, comprehensive, responsive, effective and democratic public services. – Mayen Jaymalin