The Ninoy Aquino International Airport Should Remain RP’s Main International Gateway

“It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression
‘as pretty as an airport.’ Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly.
Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of a special effort.”
– Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

NAIA Terminal 1 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Most of my holidays in recent years begin with an hour-wait at the arrivals area of Terminal 1 at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). I can’t help but feel dismayed every single time I go there. The place is in dire need of TLC. The walls require a new coat of paint. The metal railings are broken in some places, with some exposed rusty edges sharp enough to cut skin. Many signages have letters missing. There aren’t enough chairs to accommodate the crowd. The toilets, though recently renovated, are not properly cleaned. There’s a pervading sewer smell about the place.

Just looking at the arrivals area, I really don’t wonder why NAIA Terminal 1 was declared the worst airport in the world last year. When you have guests expected at your house, one of the things you’d typically do is to make sure your house appears presentable when your guests arrive. Obviously, the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) and the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) got it ass-backward.

On top of that, NAIA Terminal 1 is operating close to capacity. It’s only supposed to handle 4.5 million passengers every year, and the airport actually exceeded that in the 1990s. As of 2011, the number is pegged at 3.9 million.

The solution to the NAIA Terminal 1 problem is very simple: Upgrade it or transfer international flights to the newly built Terminal 3. Terminal 3 is designed to handle 13 million passengers annually, but right now it only handles Cebu Pacific and AirPhil Express flights. It barely operates at half its capacity. One blogger aptly called Terminal 3 a “Pinoy White Elephant.”

NAIA Terminal 3 Lobby (Image: Evan T. Hall)

But instead of maximizing the facilities of the NAIA Complex, the DOTC is actually considering replacing NAIA with Clark International Airport as the Philippines’ main international gateway. For me, the idea just doesn’t make sense. As IATA stated recently, this move won’t really solve the overcrowding problem at NAIA. Clark is at least 100 kilometers away from Manila. Manila is where most international travelers to the Philippines want to go. Why make it inconvenient for these travelers to get to Manila?

NAIA Terminal 1 doesn’t deserve to be the worst airport in the world. It doesn’t deserve to be set aside in favor of Clark. What it needs is a new shot at life, and if the DOTC and MIAA get their act together, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get NAIA up to snuff at all.


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Anna Sibal-Gonzaga is a freelance writer based in the Philippines. She likes reading books and watching movies and TV shows in the sci-fi, fantasy and historical genres. She is also a casual gamer and an all-around nerd.

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