Sangil: SMC’s airport in Bulacan

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I KNOW several friends from Bulacan flying to different destinations here and abroad using the Clark International Airport. They are saying it’s more convenient to travel to Clark Freeport. It is less hassle. That’s very true. Unlike when negotiating the heavy traffic along EDSA on the way to the airports in Pasay City. Easily more than one hour if you are lucky. Every time, there are chances you will miss your flight. Last week, Chichos Luciano was my guest on my TRENDING MAX TV show on Cable Channel 3 and he recalled the days when Clark Airport was just starting to have flights.

After the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991, the airport was hardly used. The first commercial flight somehow started in October 2003. The United Parcel Service (UPS) made a daily run of 11 flights. It was an Aseana Airline which experimented a test flight carrying mostly golfers. Later, regular flights with tourists and investors came. Also AirAsia of Tony Fernandes started its commercial short haul flights. Then the legacy carriers. Then Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific.

Slowly the terminal was upgraded to accommodate more passengers and annual revenues was nearing billions. I remember as a member of the board of directors of Clark International Airport Corporation, we approved getting the services of the corps of engineers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to strengthen the tarmac just to accommodate the cargo planes.

Here’s a business strategy normally we don’t understand. The government recently issued a notice of award to San Miguel Holdings Corporation for its proposal to build a new international airport in Bulacan. Us in Pampanga, and I was one of the longest serving directors of government corporations like Bases Conversion and Development Authority, Clark Development Corporation and Clark International Airport Corporation are looking with disfavor on this latest move of the Department of Transportation.

Let us look back. In the early years, when people mention San Miguel, the first thing that comes to mind is the popular beer brewed in barrio Marulas, Valenzuela, Bulacan. The San Miguel brewery plant in Valenzuela was formerly owned by the late Andres Soriano Sr., a Spanish expat. Over a period of time, it changed hands and landed on the lap of Boss Eduardo 'Danding' Cojuangco. It grew bigger and became profitable further. Then it became a conglomerate. Thanks to Ramon S. Ang aka RSA, the favorite mechanic of the Mercedes Benz fleet of a Boss Danding, who took charge of the giant corporation some years back. With RSA at the helm it is now involved in various enterprises.

San Miguel Corporation (SMC) obtained the original proponent status with an offer to build an air gateway somewhere in Bulacan, some kilometers away from Clark airport. As the original proponent, initially the National Economic Development Authority (Neda) evaluated the SMC proposal. It was rejected the first time. Maybe there’s a threat that the surrounding areas will be submerged and get flooded during the rainy months. My suspicion is that someone influential was able to reach a power broker. It was re-evaluated and finally got the stamp of approval. Now the question we can ask: With this development, how will RSA’s airport affect the Clark airport?

How many times we cited that aviation and financial gurus are one in saying that the best option for the Philippines to build its international gateway is in the aviation complex of Clark Freeport, and that the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) should be downgraded as a secondary airport since its 3.2-kilometer single runway can no longer accommodate the larger aircraft. And the runway has no more room for expansion. The terminals are too congested, causing so much inconvenience to airline passengers. The Clark aviation complex has more than 2,400 hectares with two 3.5-kilometer parallel runways with more room for expansion.

There were several efforts in the past since it was reopened in 1993 for the Clark airport to be either the main gateway or utilized as a secondary airport since the Ninoy Aquino International Airport is already beyond its capacity.


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