Sunday, 13 January 2013

COMMENTARY: ‘Open skies’ useless for now


NAIA is not covered by the pocket open skies policy of government because it is hopelessly congested. But according to a recent report, infrastructure bottlenecks continue to choke not just NAIA but the country’s aviation sector. 

More foreign carriers unable to find slots in most major Philippine airports are deterred from mounting flights to the country.
Carmelo Arcilla, the executive director of the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) said several major foreign airlines have decided not to start or expand operations in the Philippines due to the scarcity of space. 

This is particularly true at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
According to Arcilla, as quoted in newspaper reports, “there are a lot of airlines that can’t get any slots at all our airports.” 

He said while prospects for the Philippine airline industry remained bright, the sector could still suffer due to the country’s infrastructure backlog.
“The only open slots are during dead hours and no one wants those,” Arcilla said in a recent interview. “That’s the only deterrent to growth,” Arcilla said. 

“We still have a lot of orders for slots, but we can’t meet them.”
You would think that because we have a serious congestion problem in our airports the bureaucrats concerned will show some sense of urgency. 

But no. It is still business as usual as if we don’t have an ambitious tourism target to meet.
Outside of Metro Manila, the key airports that require improvement have been identified. But the wheels of the bureaucratic process grind too slowly. 

Everything from night operation facilities to essential navigational aids are lacking even in the premier airport that NAIA is supposed to be. 

Navigation facilities at NAIA keep on failing and forcing flights to land in Clark first and return to NAIA after they have done emergency repairs.
Business ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1
The Department of Budget and Management said it released P933.8 million for the acquisition of night landing equipment for the airports of Tuguegarao, San Jose in Mindoro, Busuanga, Naga, Legazpi, Roxas, Tagbilaran, Dumaguete, Dipolog, Pagadian, Ozamis, Cotabato, Butuan and Surigao. 

The airports will be equipped for air traffic services, airfield lighting, communications and power supply, among other things.
All those improvements will allow flights to land and depart after sunset and before sunrise, easing the congestion at NAIA. But don’t get your hopes high. 

Based on DOTC’s record on project implementation, it could still be a long waiting time for these improvements to be functional.
It is clear, from Arcilla’s revelations, that our open skies policy whether pocket or otherwise is nothing more than a symbolic gesture on the part of the Aquino administration. It is just P-Noy’s way of telling the world that he dislikes monopolies, specially those that exist by virtue of a government fiat. 

He gets credit for that.
But promulgating the open skies policy and reaping the benefits from the policy are two separate things. 

One is a mere scrap of paper with a presidential signature. 

The other requires adequate infrastructure facilities from airports and a road network that makes our tourist spots easily accessible.
A recent announcement that we will start air rights negotiations with a number of nations is nothing but a clumsy attempt to make us think our bureaucrats are doing something useful. 

Why waste time, money and effort for something we cannot use anyway?
Speaking of airport congestion… how come those small planes under the classification of general aviation (includes corporate aviation) haven’t been ordered to move out of NAIA? Only the fish delivery flights have been moved to Sangley. 

Maybe DOTC officials are reluctant to issue such an order because administration officials will borrow those corporate planes to campaign for the May election.
I am more convinced than ever that government should privatize airport ownership and operation. Many good airports abroad including the Schiphol International in Amsterdam and the Pearson International in Toronto are privately managed.
Of course the private sector can also mess things up. But at the rate things are not moving in our infrastructure pipeline, it seems that anything would be an improvement over what the guys at DOTC, NAIA and CAAP are capable of.
There is a need for the administration to ensure that the objectives of their landmark policy pronouncements are achieved. 

Declaring an Open Skies policy is all about increasing the country’s accessibility via the aviation sector. 

Anything that impedes the accomplishment of this objective ought to be addressed immediately.
NAIA officials can’t just sit on their butts and say that’s just the way it is. 

If they can’t improve things quickly, they should be honorable and patriotic enough to resign so better managers can be hired. 

One thing our country has is a surplus of competent managers. It is a mystery why government can’t seem to find them.
P-Noy should not ignore the seriousness of the problem just because the NAIA general manager is his close buddy who butters him up every occasion he gets. 

That is totally unfair to the public that elected him with high hopes for change.
DOTC’s rail projects
I received a comment from an apparently informed source to a previous column where I expressed fear that P-Noy will not be able to deliver any MRT-3 upgrade during his term. It seems my fears are well founded.
Here is that reader’s comment:
“Let me add my prediction on the other rail projects. I would be extremely happy to be proven wrong, but my evaluation of the facts point to only one conclusion: neither the Line 1 extension to Cavite (12-km) or Line2 extension to the east (four-km) will be completed when P-Noy term ends in mid 2016.
“Very sad. As early as 3rd quarter 2010, the PPP Coalition already identified these two projects as low-hanging fruits ready to be implemented.
“Line1-extension to Cavite is already 6-months behind the DOTC schedule announced last year. You would think that with P105 million to be paid to the anointed transaction advisor (DBP & IFC), it should have moved faster.
“The draft concession agreement is yet to be issued out to the four pre-qualified bidders. There is still critical information missing (like starting fare) for the bidders to craft a good bid.
“DOTC just published a one-page ad on the bid for detailed engineering services of Line 2 extension. With that scheme, the earliest DOTC can bid out the construction contract will be mid-2014. Add 2 years to build, the completion would be late 2016.”
Incidentally, I heard that P-Noy is thinking of pushing DOTC Sec. Jun Abaya as the Liberal Party presidential bet in 2016. Mar Roxas is reported to be no longer interested in running.
If that is the case, Sec Abaya has to do a lot better than he is doing now. 

At the rate he is going, he will be damaged by the DOTC assignment in the same way that Mar was damaged by it. His DOTC stint could expose his lack of managerial abilities. 

Abaya talks confused and acts as if he has all the time in the world. 

He is of course, starting to look rather pathetic.
If he fails to deliver any big project by 2016, Jun Abaya may find it difficult to run for dogcatcher in Cavite. 

After all, the Cavitenos are expecting that LRT-1 extension to be usable by the time they vote in 2016. The prospects for that actually happening is getting dimmer by the day.
The challenge to Jun Abaya is to prove this columnist wrong. 

As a Filipino who loves this country and eager to see it progress, that will make me extremely happy.
Marilyn Mana-ay Robles sent this one.
Q: How do you prevent sagging after 50?
A: Eat until the wrinkles fill out.
-- Philippine Star

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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