Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 will start servicing international flights next month on a limited basis to pave the way for the facility’s full operations next year, officials said yesterday. President Arroyo said that the opening of NAIA-3 is proof of the government’s “resolve and determination to move forward” towards economic progress.
The facility recently opened for domestic flights with Cebu Pacific. Yesterday, Philippine Airlines (PAL) Express and Air Philippines also began domestic flight operations at the NAIA-3.
Mrs. Arroyo inspected the facility after coming from Cebu at noon. Her plane taxied towards NAIA-3 and stopped at Gate 131. She was met by NAIA-3 Task Force head Michael Defensor, PAL chairman Lucio Tan, Cebu Pacific president Lance Gokongwei and Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza. In her impromptu speech after her inspection tour of the sprawling terminal, the President thanked Defensor, Mendoza and the others who helped open the facility after a six-year wait.
“This airport is the gateway of our country to the rest of the world,” the President said. “It is our showcase for tourism and economic progress.” She said opening of the terminal was, “a result of our resolve and determination to move this nation forward. Welcome to NAIA-3.”
Defensor said Cebu Pacific assured him that by August 8, it would operate one or two international flights out of the terminal and slowly increase the flights until the NAIA 3 can fully operate for international flights by February next year. In he meantime, local airlines Air Philippines and fledgling PAL Express joined Cebu Pacific in operating out of NAIA-3, testing further the facility’s capacity to accommodate regular commercial flights after years of staying mothballed.
Alfonso Cusi, Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager, said that the transfer of Air Philippines and PAL Express of their domestic flights was welcomed by MIAA. The two airlines, owned by Tan, transferred all their domestic flights to the NAIA-3 yesterday. The transfer of the two airlines, particularly Air Philippines, was a bigger test for the facility since it entailed the activation of the terminal’s long-unused aerobridge machines.
It was learned that Air Philippines’ flights will use Boeing B737 aircraft that will load and unload passengers via the aerobridge to get into the terminal’s arrival area.
The final partial opening of NAIA-3 this week comes after a couple of failed “soft openings” set by MIAA in 2006 and 2007 after government’s payment of a P3-billion downpayment to the builder of the terminal, the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. (Piatco) in 2006 as expropriation of the facility. In the meantime, the newly-appointed director-general of the fledgling Civil Aviation Authority said that a lot of things still have to be done before the country’s rating with the United States’ Federal Aviation Authority (US FAA) can be upgraded.
Retired Philippine Air Force general Ruben Ciron said his first act as director general of the new body was to establish the agency’s organizational setup and enable it to take the place of its forerunner, the now-defunct Air Transportation Office. “First in our agenda, of course, is the organization of the authority,” Ciron said. He continued, stating that many of the qualified and experienced technical personnel of the ATO will be absorbed by the CAA.
With its charter giving it the funding capability to hire necessary qualified personnel, Ciron said that the CAA will also be hiring more people to enable it to perform its function of regulating the entire aviation industry. After hiring rank and file personnel, Ciron said they will immediately attend to the upgrade of the country’s rating with the US FAA in connection with its compliance with international aviation safety standards.
The FAA had downgraded the Philippines from a Category I to a Category II on its compliance with international aviation safety standards, citing some deficiencies in the ATO’s manpower and systems that prevent it from properly auditing local aviation entities. The downgrade prevented Philippine carriers from opening more flights to the United States this year. Ciron shared that he cannot as yet give a timetable when the country can already ask for a re-inspection by the US FAA.
Ciron revealed that a four-man team from the CAA and the Department of Transportation and Communications, which includes him, had been invited by the FAA to go to their headquarters in Washington, D.C. to undergo a seminar next week on FAA guidelines on compliance with international standards.