By Daphne Galvez, January 3, 2023; Philippine Daily Inquirer

Manila, Philippines — The private sector is pushing for the revival of  a 2018 proposal to form a consortium that will modernize the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia), following the Jan 1 glitch that halted all travel within Philippine airspace.

“NAIA is strategically located and any improvements made here will redound to so many benefits to the country,” said Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion  in a statement on Tuesday. Similarly, he said, any inefficiencies in the NAIA translate to big losses in business down the line, which are felt throughout the country.

“I believed then, as I do now, that the private sector can contribute so much if allowed to participate,” Concepcion said.

Concepcion made this call following the New Year’s day incident at the Naia which shut the Philippine airspace. On that day, 361 flights to and from Manila were either canceled, diverted or delayed  after power outages downed air navigation facilities of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP). This affected about 56,000 passengers.

The power outage resulted in the loss of communication, radio, radar and internet at Naia.

In 2018, a consortium of six of the Philippines’ biggest conglomerates submitted an unsolicited proposal to upgrade the country’s main airport to be undertaken in three phases from 2021 to 2024. The project will decongest and increase the capacity of the airport.

The proposal also promised to increase Naia’s efficiency by 20 percent and will make it a world-class gateway on par with the world’s best airports.

Also, the proposal did not require any government guarantee or the imposition of a moratorium on the construction of another major airport.

It was recommended by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) for approval to the Manila International Airport Authority, the primary government agency for the project.

By August that year, the consortium secured from the government an original proponent status for its plan to rehabilitate Naia and it was approved by the National Economic Development Authority board in November 2019.

However, in March 2020, then Transport Secretary Art Tugade said he will cancel the unsolicited proposal and  will offer the project to parties that are ready to accept the government’s terms and conditions if a deal is not finalized.

In July 2020, the consortium withdrew the proposal due to unresolved issues with the government.

The consortium is composed of Aboitiz InfraCapital Inc., AC Infrastructure Holdings Corp., Alliance Global Group Inc., Asia’s Emerging Dragon Corp., Filinvest Development Corp., JG Summit Holdings Inc. and Metro Pacific Investments Corp.

Concepcion, who was responsible for the formation of the consortium, said the whole idea was first put forward a year before, in 2017, when the country was preparing for the Association of Southeast Asian Summit.

He said Naia’s rehabilitation would have been good for the consortium’s respective businesses, such as in air travel, real estate or retail.

“All of the conglomerates were interested in seeing the project push through. We were all in agreement that connectivity is important, and even the tycoons who were not formally part of the group pitched in to see how they can help,” Concepcion said.

“Having seen how badly key systems in our air transportation system need to be modernized, and how severely any glitch can affect the whole country, I hope that this time, we can revive this proposal and see it through,” he added.