The government on Wednesday said it aims to privatize the management and operation of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) by the first quarter of 2024.
“That is a very tough and tight schedule. We can say that is doable in the first quarter of next year,” said Transportation Undersecretary for Aviation and Airports Roberto Lim.
“That takes time. If there is more than one participant, we will have to talk to all of them. It will take time,” he added.
Lim said privatization would have its upside in terms of efficiency in passenger and flight movement, and would generate income for the government.
“There is a lot of upside when you upgrade NAIA. You introduce efficiencies. That means you can process more passengers, you can take in more flights, and more revenues—[which] means a larger share for the government,” he said.
Lim also clarified issues surrounding the airport’s privatization, including the role of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) once the privatization takes place and the airport employees.
“The relationship between MIAA and the concessionaire will be regulator-operator. The MIAA will continue to operate as a body that will regulate [and] oversee,” he said.
“Generally [there will be] no loss of employment. Airport employees will be offered the opportunity to work when the airport facilities are privatized,” he added.
Lim said that all airport assets at the NAIA still belong to the government with the private concessionaire limited to an operations and management role.
On Friday, the Department of Transporation (DOTr) and MIAA submitted a joint proposal for the NAIA solicited Public Private Partnership (PPP) Project for approval by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board, giving the private concessionaire 15 years to operate the airport and recover its investment.
Senator Grace Poe said if the airport operations had been privatized earlier, the country might have avoided many of its problems.
“We could have averted the glitches that messed up the flight schedules and inconvenienced thousands of travelers had the modernization of the airport’s air traffic control and operations been undertaken years ago,” Poe said.
The proposal to enlist a private concessionaire to operate the country’s main gateway, she said, was one of her priority recommendations in the committee report on the NAIA power glitches.
“Like any concessionaire, we need to ensure that this private entity lives up to its commitment to improve air services in the country,” said Poe, who chairs the Senate committee on public services.
She noted the government should require an accomplishment timeline, performance matrix, and penalties for any default.
“We have seen how the transformation of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport by a private consortium and its improved services and facilities have positively impacted on tourism and passenger experience,” Poe said.
She said this could be a template for the modernization of the NAIA operations.
“It’s time to start fixing our country’s premier gateway. Filipinos and foreign travelers deserve a better airport,” she said.
The Bureau of Immigration (BI) welcomed the proposal to modernize NAIA, saying it will facilitate the delivery of faster and efficient immigration services to the traveling public.
Immigration Commissioner Norman Tansingco said the BI fully supports a joint proposal recently submitted by the DOTr and Manila International Airport Authority to NEDA to undertake the NAIA modernization.
The proposal seeks to upgrade the facilities of the country’s premiere airport through a public-private partnership scheme that will be undertaken by a private concessionaire who will invest in the project.
“As we have repeatedly stressed, the expansion of NAIA’s facilities is necessary so we can avoid these long queues in our immigration counters and expedite the processing of the thousands of international passengers who arrive and depart at the airport daily,” Tansingco said.
The BI chief said he hopes that with a modernized NAIA, the immigration areas in NAIA’s terminals will be widened and additional immigration booths will be installed to enable it to cope with the ever increasing volume of passengers at the airport.
Tansingco stressed that lack of manpower is no longer a problem for the BI with the continuous hiring of new BI officers in recent years.
“What we need at the NAIA is additional space and more immigration counters so that these long passenger queues will become a thing of the past,” he added.
He said the proposed NAIA modernization project could not have come at a more opportune time, citing the recent approval by the House of Representatives of a new Philippine immigration law that will replace the antiquated 1940 Immigration Act.
The Senate is now expected to tackle the immigration bill, which is among the bills that Malacañang has certified as urgent to Congress.