AFTER years of government indecision, the Clark International Airport expansion project has finally begun.
Groundbreaking rites were held last week for a New Terminal Building on a 100,000-square meter area which, when completed, will be able to handle eight million passengers a year. It is described as a “hybrid” project, where the government begins the construction and related projects are opened to bidding by private firms.
Clark is at the center of an infrastructure program for Luzon that includes several expressways to Northern Luzon and east to Aurora province. The entire airport-expressway system will cost a total of P1 trillion, according to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III.
Part of the reason for this major program for Central and Northern Luzon with Clark at its hub is the need to solve the growing problem at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), the country’s major gateway. NAIA simply can no longer accommodate the increasing millions of visitors who arrive in the country and the other millions of Filipinos leaving for other countries, many of them overseas Filipino workers.
NAIA is not being left behind. It has its own development program. A number of conglomerates have formed a consortium which submitted a bid to rehabilitate and operate NAIA which, despite its limitations – only 63.5 hectares of land and only one runway – has the distinct advantage of location right in the nation’s political and economic center of Metro Manila.
NAIA will remain a major gateway to the country with Clark, along the lines of megacities with two-airport systems, like Tokyo (Haneda and Narita) and London (Gatwick and Heathrow). With upgrades, NAIA can increase its present 40 take-offs and landings per hour to 48 per hour.
But the future belongs to Clark because of its wide expanse of land – 4,000 hectares – and its two giant runways built by the US Air Force for its bombers and swift fighters in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. For months now, more and more airliners have moved their operations to Clark.
The previous Aquino administration debated long and hard about the NAIA problem, considering plans for new airports in Cavite, in Bulacan, and on reclaimed land in Manila Bay. But it has taken the new Duterte administration to make the decision to use Clark within its first 18 months in office.
“It just shows it has strong political will to get things done fast,” Secretary Dominguez said.