WE ARE getting there.
Yes, the new terminal of Clark International Airport (code: CRK) has been completed, shell wise, by the government. BCDA and DOTr made that happen.
Now comes an even tougher task of fitting it out. Mind you, we are not just talking about buying furniture for lounges, waiting areas, and counters. It is not just about buying TV monitors for check-in desks. It is not just about buying carousels for baggage handling.
It is about buying various systems that should to be reliable for passenger and cargo processing, for safety and security. The systems need to be compliant to “new normal” set-up where some health protocols have to be factored in the building’s air circulation and ventilation, in passenger check in, and other considerations that could help stop the spread of virus.
In last week’s video press conference, I saw that big, big beautiful smile on the face of Bi Yong Chungungco, chief executive officer of Lipad (Luzon International Premier Airport Development Corp.).
I would have done the same as the pressure to finally open the new building slowly eases down. With the announcement to open the terminal for Christmastime flights, Bi Yong sounded so confident and glad that CRK would soon be servicing passengers in an entirely spanking new, comfortable, convenient set-up.
One must remember government’s (many) announcements on the immediate opening of the terminal soon after another company has completed its construction. The imposition though was moved few times. Understandably so, because of the global pandemic that derailed procurement of the systems and whole fit-out endeavors.
I could only imagine the pressure to open the terminal on the consortium that was on Bi Yong’s shoulders as its CEO. It is probably the most unenviable job where a deadline must have been hounding in her sleep and even meal times.
But alas, Bi Yong is one tough lady there. Showing not only woman power but also a determination to succeed and be a dependable partner in a government-private sector endeavor. That’s grace under pressure personified.
She could continue to enlist that toughness and charm in getting more flights mounted to and from CRK. And I won’t be surprised when she gets to exceed record number of flights and destinations under her tutelage and leadership.
CRK had about 670 domestic and international flights per week at the peak of its operations prior to the pandemic in January 2020. It posted a peak record two million passenger traffic in the first half of 2019.
As of late, there are very few international flights in CRK, led by the deep-pocketed Qatar Airways and Emirates which are hanging in tough to bring repatriates from middle east, Europe and other parts of the globe.
And so, what could we expect for amenities and features at the new terminal?
For its initial run in December, Lipad has already installed state-of-the-art systems that include no-touch check-in kiosks and OFW Lounge as it started to fit out the new 8-million a year capacity terminal.
On question raised by this writer on what target flights/destinations is LIPAD aiming for, Bi Yong said we will also be seeing the return of Asiana Airlines, one of South Korea’s flag carriers that has been operating in Clark since 2003.
Such great news for me personally with Asiana being a favorite, taking it on countless times to and from the US. It has always been an airline of choice (CRK for airport). This has started when I covered the United Nations General Assembly in New York on many occasions in mid 2000s.
Asiana has serviced tens of thousands of Filipinos who opt to fly in and out of the country via CRK. At one point, it had double daily flights in CRK. Clark is a lucrative market for the airline along with other carriers with its 24 million catchment in north and central Luzon regions.
One too many times, I have bumped into friends, colleagues and old acquaintances in Incheon where they are to take onward connections to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago. Some of them on their return back to the Philippines. Ohh, quite a few are balikbayans.
Given this huge market for CRK, I think that Lipad and the government must put its feet down in negotiating for more reasonable ticket rates (yes, reasonable, not necessarily cheap). In Asiana’s case, its round trip ticket to CRK-JFK-CRK (with stopover at Incheon) would be higher by anywhere from $200 to $400 when compared to MNL-JFK-MNL (with same stopover).
With pandemic still lingering, coupled by the fact that CRK must be marketed well vis a vis that 24 million catchment (meaning potential flyers), I think airlines should agree to reasonable rates that will be pushed by Lipad and the government.