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Our plane approached Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) from Manila Bay and so I was able to get a good look at Sangley Point from the air. Sangley Point is currently an Philippine Air Force base although last time I checked some general aviation have been transferred from NAIA to Sangley Point to ease congestion at Manila’s gateway. Recently, Sangley Point has been the subject of much discussions regarding the location of a possible replacement for NAIA. The latter has been experiencing much congestion lately as evident from the frequently delayed flights in and out of the airport, which already has 4 passenger terminals. The assessment is that NAIA won’t be able to handle the steadily growing number of flights, passengers and cargo that it is and would be handling. And so, the conclusion was to determine the location of a new airport that would basically serve the National Capital Region in particular and the rest of the country in general. The last is in reference to NAIA being the prime gateway to the country despite other international airports including Cebu-Mactan and Davao.
There is actually another major airport to the north of Metro Manila in what was formerly a U.S. air base in Pampanga province – Clark. Clark International Airport (also known at one point as Diosdado Macapagal International Airport) was once touted to be the Narita to NAIA’s Haneda (an allusion to the two major gateways in the Kanto region of Japan). Plans for Clark included the construction of a modern railway line (the still-born Northrail) that would have connected Metro Manila with Clark. There is already a modern expressway connecting the two in the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) that connects Clark with the rest of Central Luzon. The newest tollway in the country, the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX), has already completed Phase 1 and will ultimately connect Clark with northern Luzon.
Sangley Point is located to the southwest of NAIA in the province of Cavite. Its location is quite strategic being at the mouth of Manila Bay and current developments related to much reclamation work in the coastal cities and towns of Metro Manila and Cavite invites speculation about Sangley Point as a possible site for a future international airport. The examples of Haneda, Kansai and Hong Kong have been mentioned as references or models for Sangley to follow. However, it is not a simple thing considering the need for extensive reclamation in order to have space for a modern airport with multiple runways and passenger terminal(s) that can handle the projected millions of travellers using the airport. There are also environmental concerns here that need to be addressed, which can be evaluated via a comprehensive environmental impact study.
Sangley Point airbase as seen from our landing aircraft
A closer look shows the strip of land that’s pretty much just the runway and a few buildings that serve as terminal and offices.
Whether the proposal for a future international airport at Sangley Point takes off (pun intended) or it is decided that Clark will be the main gateway for what has become a Greater Capital Region (Mega Manila) remains to be seen. There is actually a couple of other proposals put forward before including a site in Bulacan (north of Metro Manila) and at Laguna de Bay (south of Metro Manila). These proposals have basically faded in discussions and only Clark and Sangley Point remain in active consideration. Clark is already there and has a master plan with 3 runways and a huge passenger terminal while Sangley is still basically a concept for the transformation of a small air base and with lots of uncertainties/risks involved especially in implementation. Perhaps what will be for Clark’s advantage and the tipping point is the Bases Conversion and Development Authority’s (BCDA) proposal for a Clark Green City located nearby. The success of this new city is seen partly to be anchored on Clark becoming the main gateway and in tandem with NAIA. In my opinion, this can and would work (and would likely be more cost effective) if the government commits itself to Clark and the required infrastructure to support the airport. This can also help decongesting Metro Manila with a major development in Clark Green City, which is already in the works in as far as BCDA is concerned. As for Sangley, perhaps the question is not whether we can do another Haneda but if we can do it right and within a reasonable time frame given the complexity of the task at hand.