Speaker threatens airline franchises unless airports decongested

NAIA'S runway, in InterAksyon file photo by Nonoy Espina

MANILA, Philippines — Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez ordered local airlines, the Manila International Airport Authorities and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines to decongest the country’s airports within 45 days, threatening to cancel the franchises of the carriers if they fail to do so.

“Our directive is in 45 days, ayusin na ‘yang distribution sa use ng terminal … Kapag hindi na kaya ng traffic, tanggihan na (fix the distribution of the use of the terminals … If they can no longer accommodate traffic, then don’t accept anymore),” Alvarez said at a hearing Wednesday.

He also scolded airline executives, accusing them of focusing only on passenger traffic at the expense of the safety, comfort and convenience of their clients.

Iyong mga ayaw sumunod sa (Those who refuse to obey) rules and regulations, we can always cancel their franchise, and we are not joking,” Alvarez said.

Lance Gokongwei, president of Cebu Pacific Air, was asked if the airline could transfer some of its flights to other airports within a month.

Alvarez suggested that flights that can no longer be accommodated at the four terminals of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport could be transferred to Clark in Pampanga, the nearest international airport to Manila.

“This kind of drastic step may take over a year of planning …” Gokongwei replied.

But Alvarez, a former Transportation secretary, said: “Okay na iyong 45 days, kung hindi natin uumpisahan, walang mangyayari (Forty-five days should be okay, if we don’t start nothing will happen).”

He also said that airports designed for domestic flights should not be used to accommodate international flights because they do not have the appropriate facilities.

Alvarez singled out Cebu Pacific for consistently not allowing its passengers use of air bridges to cut costs.

Ang malaking violation lang naman itong Cebu Pacific, talagang matigas ang ulo. May tube, ayaw gamitin kahit available. Iyong sinasabi na hindi policy ng kumpanya ‘yan, binobola tayo, katarantaduhan ‘yan (Cebu Pacific commits major violations, it’s really hardheaded. There are tubes but it won’t use these even if available. Their claim this is not company policy is deceptive, it’s foolishness),” he said in a separate news conference.

Mga pasahero ang nagsasabi na pinaglalakad sila, bababa, aakyat, pa’no iyong matatanda, disabled, may sakit (The passengers themselves say they are made to walk, descend, climb, what about the elderly, disabled, the sick)?” he added.

Gokongwei said he would look into Alvarez’ complaint.

Ed Monreal, MIAA general manager, said all four terminals can service 42 million passengers a year, but added there is a need to increase both terminal and runway capacity to service more passengers.

The hearing took place a day after a consortium of seven of the country’s largest conglomerates announced that they had submitted an unsolicited proposal to the Department of Transportation to transform the NAIA into a regional hub.