CLARK FREEPORT -- The country's second premier gateway, the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA), is experiencing an air traffic boom, an indication that business is thriving in Central Luzon, an official said.

Victor Jose Luciano, president of Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC), which controls and manages the DMIA, attributed the success of the airport to the influx of big-ticket investors and tourists into Clark.

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"We took over a moribund airport. It was dormant for more than a decade, from 1990 since the Mount Pinatubo eruption until late 2001. Pero sayang, infrastructure was already there. We've learned there were potential investors but all of them didn't continue. Puro maiden flights," he said.

Luciano said before the Americans left Clark, they already made it as the only airport outside continental US that can land a space shuttle.

First to come in, according to him, was the United Parcel Service (UPS), which made its maiden flights in 2002. Since then, UPS has Clark as its inter-Asia hub. Packages from Europe and the US are being sorted out in Clark for distribution in nearby Asian countries.

Luciano, who was former manager for Asiana Airlines, a Korean company, was instrumental in luring several airlines, including his former employer, into making DMIA their base in the country.

He started with CIAC as its president in September 2006 but he's been with Clark Development Corporation as its executive vice president since June 2001. One of his main functions was in aviation.

"Even though I came from them, it wasn't that easy. Korean-based Asiana Airlines already had flights in NAIA. I travelled back and forth to Seoul and personally talked with the top executive. I brought them here and showed them our tourism potential. I let them play golf in Clark and even in Hacienda Luisita. They were thrilled," he recalled.

From chartered flights twice a week, it became daily until 11 times a week. The volume of Korean tourists increased as months went by.

"They were initially avid golfers who eventually brought in their family for long vacations, especially during winter. Soon, bigger planes were needed. Koreans came in not only as tourists but as investors, students and many as permanent residents. The revenue of Angeles City also doubled. More than that, Asiana Airlines' business grew because of the Philippine market," said Luciano.

"When I was with them, it was a raising airline. Now it's the second flag carrier in Korea. Here in the Philippines, after 16 years of operation, in terms of international volume, it's probably the second to Cathay Pacific. Ang laki rin ng transformation niya," he added.

About 90 percent of Asiana's passengers are Koreans. Filipinos and other passengers can go to the US and other major destination from Clark and vice-versa though Asiana Airlines with no worries of diverted flights.

With the planes coming in -- both commercial and industrial -- business is thriving in the once ghostly Clark, which was almost inundated by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.

Now, there are more than 300 companies/locators based inside the Clark Freeport zone; many from business processing and outsourcing (BPOs) firms to tourism and aviation.

Of late, DMIA proved to be the best choice for diverted flights from NAIA 1, 2 and 3 when there's bad weather.

But Luciano has more plans for CIAC. He hopes that more airline companies, the flag carriers, will make DMIA their base in Asia.

"We have a bigger airport and the rates here, as we all know, are more affordable than in Manila. Because of new innovations like SCTEX and NLEX, travel time to and from Clark is faster and easier now. More import, because of less or no air pollution at all to speak of, the skies in Clark are much, much cleaner. What more can you ask for?" he said.

The DMIA is second to Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila as the country's premier gateway. (Reynaldo G. Navales/Sun.Star Pampanga/Sunnex)