Tycoons team up for US$6.7b upgrade of aging Manila airport

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MANILA (Feb 13): Seven Philippine conglomerates, including those led by billionaires John Gokongwei and Lucio Tan, submitted a proposal to modernize and expand the capital’s 70-year-old airport in a plan that will potentially triple capacity and help ease congestion.

Ventures of Aboitiz Equity Ventures Inc, Ayala Corp, LT Group Inc along with Alliance Global Group Inc, Filinvest Development Corp, JG Summit Holdings Inc and Metro Pacific Investments Corp filed the unsolicited proposal Feb. 12 to the Department of Transportation, according to a joint statement Tuesday. The offer by the group will be subject to a public challenge under local rules.

The two-phase project is estimated to cost as much as 350 billion pesos (US$6.7 billion), the consortium said. In the first stage, terminals on the current Ninoy Aquino International Airport land will be improved and expanded, while the second will add a runway, taxiways, passenger terminals and support infrastructure. This would allow NAIA, named after a politician who was assassinated on the airport’s tarmac in 1983, to handle up to 100 million passengers.

The NAIA airport ranked among the world’s worst airports between 2011 and 2013, according to travel website “The Guide to Sleeping in Airports.” A travel boom accompanying economic growth has choked the infrastructure, which is now handling well beyond the 30 million passengers it was initially designed for. The upgrade is aimed at elevating NAIA to a regional hub like Singapore’s Changi Airport and Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Air passengers passing through Manila will probably climb to 140 million by 2035, according to the International Air Transport Association. The present airport, with four terminals, is already handling traffic in excess of its capacity, according to IATA. Passengers in NAIA last year rose 6.3% to 42 million, the consortium said.

The offer is in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s US$180 billion infrastructure plan, the group said. The consortium, with a combined capitalization of more than 2.2 trillion pesos, has tapped Changi Airports International Pte Ltd to provide technical support in master planning, operations and commercial development.

San Miguel Corp and a group that includes billionaire Henry Sy have competing proposals for new airports to service the capital.