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[OPINION] NAIA gets its act together

NAIA gets its act together

Numbers Don’t Lie By Andrew J. Masigan | February 5, 2018


For much of the decade, traveling through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) has always been an emotionally exhausting experience for my peers and I.

As we traverse the process of departure and arrival through its four terminals, we are reminded of how inefficient government can be what with numerous processes that are both redundant and tedious.

Under the watch of the former management, NAIA was the nation’s armpit — its source of stink and grime.

From 2011 through 2013, it was rated the world’s worst airport by the “Guide to Sleeping in Airports,” one of the more respected airport evaluators in the globe. Another esteemed airport evaluator, Skytrax, did not even bother to rate NAIA, just to say that it should be avoided for its horrid conditions.

For years, the riding public were made to suffer through runway congestion, kilometric cues at the baggage X-ray checkpoints, insufficient immigration stalls, filthy comfort rooms, and equipment breakdowns. The management simply blamed everything on the aging NAIA facility and the Arroyo administration.

In 2015, airport security personnel and baggage handlers embarked on a bullet planting scheme as a means to extort money from passengers.

Colloquially known as laglag bala, the former management was again unable to resolve the modus operandi. NAIA’s former general manager even had the gumption to blame the riding public for packing bullets in their suitcases and the media for magnifying the problem. This was a new low for NAIA, something resonated negatively throughout the Aquino administration.

The public had enough and clamored for change. Those affected took their revenge in the ballot box.

As change swept the land with President Rodrigo Duterte ascending to power, a new general manager was appointed to head the Manila International Airport Authority and NAIA. That person is Eddie V. Monreal.

Monreal comes with sterling credentials having had more than 30 years experience in the aviation industry. He was the former country manager of Cathay Pacific who was responsible for operating its Manila and Cebu hubs. Both hubs operated with the professionalism associated with Cathay Pacific and this was reflected in its superior ground service and profitable operations throughout three decades. As the new GM of NAIA, Monreal is perfectly aware of the needs of the airlines and passengers alike.

A year and a half into his post and the NAIA has become a better airport in all aspects. The conflicting negative emotions we used to feel when traveling through NAIA have been replaced by sentiments of hope and appreciation. For this, the management deserves the nod of the public for their hard work and good management.

Laglag bala has become a thing of the past and so are chronic departure and arrival delays due to runway congestion. The airport experience is now more pleasant with better maintained facilities. No longer is NAIA among the worst airports in the world nor in Asia.

Today, it is ranked somewhere in the middle of the pack, ranked slightly lower than Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.

As a frequent traveler using terminals 1, 2, and 3, I tried to put my finger on what exactly Monreal has done to make my airport experience a better one. I realized that it is not one thing but numerous seemingly minor things.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the resolution of runway congestion.

By restricting general aviation (eg. private jets and charters) during peak hours and by imposing a rule whereby pilots are disallowed from requesting clearance for take off unless they are prepared to do so within five minutes, on time performance for departures and arrivals have improved from an abysmal 47% to 82% today. This is on a par with most airports in Asia.

The flow of departing passenger through baggage X-Ray inspections to check-in and onward to immigration is now faster and painless. Simple reforms were done to make this possible.

For one, Monreal opened all access gates into the airport and installed an X-ray machine in each of them. Inside, check-in counters were renovated with each airline operating the maximum number of counters for faster processing. What a big difference this has made.

Inside the departure hall, immigration booths have been re-configured to have four officers per stall instead of just two. This has doubled the processing capacity of immigration registries. Making the process even faster was the elimination of airport tax payments. It is now incorporated in the ticket cost.

Although all three terminals are advancing in age, several physical improvements have made them more comfortable for the riding public.

In terminal 2, for instance, comfort rooms have been expanded to service more people at a time. Thousands of new waiting chairs have been added in all four terminals and a better selection of food and duty free stores are now on offer for the passenger’s convenience.

In terms of mechanical facilities, a rigid preventive maintenance calendar was put in place so as to reduce the frequency of equipment breakdowns. Today, all aero bridges are in service as are the baggage conveyor belts and X ray machines. This was not the case three years ago.

In the passenger halls, sanitation of the rest rooms are now handled by the airlines themselves simply because they do a better job at it. In addition, a new agency has been appointed to keep the common areas clean, the work force of which are tenured workers, not five month temps.

Arriving passengers breeze through with faster baggage claims (because all conveyor belts are working) and they no longer have to contend with over-aggressive porters inside the arrival hall. Porters are banned from this area. Decrepit baggage carts have also been retired and replaced

Outside, passengers now have a choice between inter-airport shuttles, Ube express, metered or coupon taxis. The “official” airport taxis no longer have a monopoly of the airport taxi business.

In managing an organization as complex as NAIA, consistency is key. Monreal is often seen around the airport premises doing inspections and correcting systems and people on the spot, if out of place. He is strict in a paternal way and admired by his men for his professionalism and the work ethic akin to a private sector executive. Morale among the airport personnel has never been higher.

A lot of work has yet to be done.

Among the improvements that are in the pipeline is the repair of NAIA 3’s insufficient air-conditioning. It should be done by April this year. Also in the works is the long-awaited construction of rapid exits on the runway.

When completed this July, the main runway will be able to accommodate more movements per hour.

An additional 1,500 CCTV cameras will also be put up to augment the exiting 700, making the NAIA on a par with the more advanced airports in the world, surveillance-wise.

Terminal 2 will finally be given its long-overdue renovation and expansion. The check-in hall will be expanded to encompass the space that presently acts as the building arcade (covered area before the entrance gates). When completed, terminal 2 will not only be more spacious , it will have the capacity to absorb PAL’s fleet expansion.

With all the improvements going on, I would like to propose two more.

First, the management must put a limit to the hundreds of billboards and ad signs that cause visual clutter in the airport. As it stands, NAIA does not look like the gateway to the country but the gateway to Filinvest or DMCI showrooms what with oversized, ugly billboards at every turn. Outdoor advertising firms are abusive by nature and must be controlled. The airport belongs to the Filipino people, not the few outdoor advertising firms that bagged the concession.

Secondly, the arrival waiting area extension of terminal 1 must be renovated. It has become decrepit through time and not reflective of the progressive nation we are today. It also debases the dignity of greeters as they are blocked off by a steel gate. Why not open the second level deck? Both the passengers and greeters deserve a more dignified experience.

That said, I am happy about NAIA’s progress. It has ceased to become the symbol of government inefficiency but a symbol of resilience, hope, and positive change.


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