Clark Airport – 20 Years And Counting

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By Noel G. Tulabut

My Palm Notes

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


GUARDED optimism.

This is what former Finance Secretary Roberto De Ocampo said when asked if he is hopeful in the full development of Clark as a premier gateway, particularly an Aerotropolis.

An aerotropolis, while I fancy not myself as an expert, is a city that is anchored on an airport. Clark Freeport is bejeweled with a 2,500-hectare aviation complex which main runway has been built by the Americans just before they left after Pintatubo’s eruption in the early 1990s.

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As a former chief economist of the Ramos Administration, De Ocampo recalled how the government first made a declaration on the development of Clark. He cited presidential issuances particularly Executive Order 174 issued by FVR exactly 20 years ago. The edict designated Clark as the site of the country’s next premier gateway.

So, what has happened to Clark in the last 20 years? Remember the Piatco deal in early 2000 which allegedly stipulated that no airport in Luzon will be developed unless NAIA 3 has acquired a 10-million passenger capacity for three consecutive years? That alone has put Clark at a great disadvantage. There were other factors too.

In retrospection, De Ocampo pulled out a copy of his memo to FVR then about his recommendations for Clark. And it was exactly the way some planners and stakeholders are calling for it these days – twin airport system.

De Ocampo said that in his memo, he mentioned in particular the two premier gateways – the Dulles and Ronald Regan International Airports which serve as magnets of developments in the Washington DC-Virginia-Maryland areas.

He lived in the area and thus knows firsthand what was taking place there aside from he fact that he is one of the country’s top think tanks.

That was 20 years ago. Today, his observations are shared by a leading author on aerotropolis Greg Lindsey who was on the same stage with De
Ocampo last week during the Clark Aviation Conference under the auspices of Global Gateways Logistics City.

Lindsey said that in Dulles area alone, there are about 75,000 jobs, mostly in the BPO and data center business – an industry where Clark has gradually thrived in.

Lindsey, a journalist who co-authored a book with aerotropolis expert
John Kasarda titled “Aerotropolis – The Way We Will Live Next” said that in the Tysons Corner alone (of the Dulles-Reston-Tyson’s Corner in Fairfax County), there are another 135,000 jobs.

Tyson, by the way, is host to the largest shopping malls in the Washington-Baltimore area. On the other hand the county is host to some Fortune 500 companies.

For quite some time since its completion in the early 1960s, the
Dulles International Airport (IATA Code: IAD) was overshadowed by the
Washington National Airport (now the Ronald Regan International Airport or DCA).

There was even a time that IAD was labeled as white elephant. Like in
1965, this airport, considered then as “far out of town” was only averaging 90 flights a day while DCA which was only about five kilometers from downtown Washington DC had heydays with about 600 flights.

How IAD came to peak? Many believed that the creation of Dulles Technology Corridor (DTC) which was made up of clusters of technology and defense contractor companies. The big names include Amazon, Verisign, Network Solutions and many more.

I’ve been in and out of this airport quite a few times in the last 10 years and I’d say this is one gateway I wished Clark would have.

DTC is the same area which hosts a vast majority of telecom and satellite companies in the US and probably the rest of the world. Another reason was the fact that they implemented airline slot restrictions at DCA understandably so.

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Mr. De Ocampo must have been the happiest person on earth should his
recoms been followed to the teeth. Sadly, it did not happen that or his way which is why he probably sounded regretful in his PowerPoint-less but powerful presentation last week.

It may not be too late yet for Clark to be fully developed into a premier airport or an aerotropolis. Lindsay says there really has to be a definitive stand on the part of the government in order to realize this.

Drawing parallelism now, Clark may be lowly regarded (compared to NAIA) by government think thanks with their wishy washy plans and yet it is slowly inching to become a premier airport with or without definitive stand or policy.

There are new and bigger companies too that have located or are setting their sights on Clark. Very recent of which is BPO company Capilion Corporation Pte. Ltd of Singapore which signed a P7-billion lease with CDC. Capilion was announced to have an employment projection of 75, 000 workers within the next seven years.

On the use of airport, Clark was not totally a “ghost airport” compared to Lindsay’s description of IAD 25 years before its full utilization.

The Diosdado Macapagal International Airport has had some birds that flew in and out even after Pinatubo’s eruption, albeit small and rare. When Dr. Emmanuel Y. Angeles and Chichos Luciano tandemned for Clark, the airport grew steadily. Luciano, a former airline executive himself, was very instrumental in bringing in the big birds Asiana, Air Asia, Cebu Pacific, Qatar, etc.

As to really pushing for Clark’s total development, De Ocampo says it is a “no-brainer”, citing the congestion of NAIA’s 700 hectares against the 63,000 hectare of the former US airbase.

De Ocampo also said that the development of a new airport outside of Clark would be costly compared to the existing facilities (runways, aprons, ramps) inside the Freeport. The infrastructure windfall left by the Americans at the aviation complex alone would run up to $50 billion.

For his part, Architect Jun Palafox who has been into urban and master planning activities in 38 countries, said that there are some factors in order for Clark’s aerotropolis to prosper.

Firstly, political will and visionary leaders. Secondly, good planning
and good design. Thirdly, good governance. He went on to say that Metro Manila should be made “less attractive”, advocating the development of other regions as magnets for development.

This is the same call being sounded off by Mr. Levi Laus and some business and advocacy groups when he launched "Decongest".

For Clark, he says, the airport is already a magnet. The planned aerotropolis should also go with creation of agropolis or agri-based cities. This makes sense as more than half of the so-called Clark’s sub-zone is dedicated to agri or agro-industrial projects.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on May 21, 2014.

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