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MIAA urged: Put terminal reassignments on hold

June 21, 2023 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 147 views

To reverse worsening congestion at NAIA amid revenge travel

NATIONAL Unity Party (NUP) president and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte has called on the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) to put on hold its newly implemented reassignment of airlines at the capital’s four major airports, pending a rethink of this program that has apparently exacerbated, rather than eased, passenger congestion at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminals.

“With passenger queues reportedly getting even longer at the NAIA departure areas, airport officials need to take a pause on their STAR (Schedule and Terminal Assignment Rationalization) program, pending a serious rethink of its new initiative that was ostensibly designed to ease the nagging airport congestion that has for long inconvenienced passengers and tourists,” Villafuerte said.

“While we commend the MIAA for taking steps to address this airport-congestion pickle that has given a blackeye to our air transport and tourism sectors,” he said, “it needs to return to the status quo on airline assignments at the four NAIA terminals until such time it has finished reviewing—and tweaking—its new STAR program with an eye to finally improving the airport experience for both local and foreign air travellers.”

“And our airport authorities are not helping address passengers’ woes in telling them that to avoid the departure hassles, they should be at the airport at least three hours before their scheduled flights,” he said.

“How could it be more convenient for passengers to arrive way ahead of their flights, when leaving their homes or offices much earlier than usual and staying at the airport for several hours on end are too much of an inconvenience already?,” he stressed.

“Unless the new terminal assignments are reversed for the meantime,” Villafuerte fears that “airport congestion will only get worse by the day as more and more Filipinos travel by air in a dash for revenge travel.”

The airline reassignments are part of the STAR program, which MIAA launched on April 16 to ease airport congestion. Under the program, MIAA estimates the capacity of Terminal 2 to increase from 7.5 million to 10 million passengers a year.

However, airport congestion took a turn for the worse, at least at the NAIA Terminal 1 last week, as MIAA began transferring there on June 16 all of PAL’s international flights that were previously assigned to NAIA Terminal 2, as part of the STAR program that the agency started last summer.

“Our airport authorities cannot afford another boo-boo getting an extended run, given that this latest scenario of long lines of passengers at departure areas has come on the heels of three incidents of power outrages and an air traffic system failure at our NAIA airports this year alone,” he said.

The New Year’s Day incident, for instance, shut down Philippine airspace, grounding some 300 flights and leaving about 65,000 passengers stranded at the airports on that special day.

The airport experience has gotten so awful at the NAIA terminals, according to Villafuerte, that no less than Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile recently called for the ouster of all airport officials for—in Enrile’s words—“sleeping on the job.”

On TV, Enrile said airport officials “should not be sleeping on the job,” and urged President Marcos to fire all of them, and “replace them with people more sensitive to their reputation and sensitive to their job and sensitive to the plight of the public.”

Villafuerte suggested to airport officials to incorporate his proposed STAR review into MIAA’s ongoing plan to speed up the rehabilitation, upgrade and improvements of the NAIA terminals.

As reported, MIAA has set a timeline of 24 to 36 months for completing its projects that include the replacement of passenger boarding bridges and chillers; upgrade of taxiways, expansion of its CCTV system and digitization of its airport operations and passenger systems; and construction of more immigration counters, including a special one to serve overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), diplomats, senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs).

As part of STAR, PAL has moved all its terminal flights to Terminal 1 while its regional brand PAL Express stayed put at Terminal 2.

Cebu Pacific’s domestic flights remain at Terminal 3, and its turboprop aircrafts under its regional brand Cebgo stays at Terminal 4.

AirAsia Philippines will move its domestic operations to Terminal 2 beginning July 1, to decongest the relatively smaller Terminal 4. Its international flights remain at Terminal 3.

Royal Air Philippines will transfer, also beginning July 1, its domestic flights from Terminal 4 to Terminal 2, while Sunlight Air will move its flights by then to Terminal 4 from its current place in the General Aviation Area reserved for chartered flights.

Some foreign airlines already moved to Terminal 3 from Terminal 1 last April 16.

In a TV-radio interview, Villafuerte said: “Sa airports bakit ang gulo-gulo ngayon. Grabe ang pila. May nag sagot, “eh para hindi kayo maperwisyo pumunta po kayo three hours before,’ eh di ba perwisyo din iyon? Parang bakit mo pinapasa sa tao dapat pag sinabing, bakit ang haba ng pila sa airport, dapat sabihin dadagdagan ng empleyo, papabilisin … huwag mo ipapasa sa tao na sasabihin mong ‘alam niyo na pong matagal eh ‘di pumunta kayo ng maaga,’ parang mali, ‘di ba?”

Earlier, Villafuerte said that with the World Health Organization (WHO)’s declaration that Covid-19 is no longer a global public health emergency, there was more reason for the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to ditch its tedious eTravel registration requirement for incoming international travellers, to entice more tourists and prospective investors to come to the Philippines.

Villafuerte reiterated his call on the IATF to get rid of this one remaining vestige of the stringent health protocols that most governments imposed three years ago to check the spread of the lethal coronavirus, following the WHO’s May 5 declaration that the Covid-19 pandemic “no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).”

In a statement, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he agreed with the recommendation by the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee that it is “time to transition to long-term management of the Covid-19 pandemic” amid the declining trend in coronavirus-related deaths, lower hospitalization rates and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, and the high levels of population immunity to the virus.

He said that “junking the tedious, time-consuming eTravel registration process would further convince the international investor community that the domestic economy has completely reopened for business and entice more international tourists to come see the Philippines.”

Despite the WHO’s declaration, though, Villafuerte called on Filipinos to remain on guard against Covid-19 and to continue adhering to the minimum public health standards such as physical distancing and mask-fearing, especially in high-risk areas for the elderly, immunocompromised individuals and those with comorbidities.

Villafuerte said the lifting of the eTravel requirement is not expected to bump up Covid-19 infections to alarming levels, given that the Department of Health (DOH) and private health experts believe that despite the current spike in this virus’ positivity rate, there is no reason to panic because of the low healthcare utilization rate (HCUR), which is the more critical criterion.

He said that, “The influx of more international visitors likely to be induced by the further relaxation of border travel requirements on incoming passengers will likely accelerate the full recovery of international tourism, boosting tourist spending receipts from this once booming sector that is crucial to our economy’s robust bounce back from the erstwhile global health and financial crises.”

Even as he welcomed the increase in tourist arrivals in this year’s first quarter following the Marcos administration’s apt relaxation in late 2022 of anti-Covid health protocols, Villafuerte said the Department of Tourism (DOT) can entice even more visitors to come here by doing away with the tedious task of filling up the eTravel document that every inbound traveler, whether foreigner or Filipino, is required to present before boarding his or her flight bound for the Philippines.