Talks on NAIA management fast-tracked

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EFFORTS to improve the operations of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) are now under way through new maintenance and concession agreements for the facility, according to the Department of Transportation (DOTr).

In a press conference in Malacañang on Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Jaime J. Bautista disclosed that President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. instructed them to fast-track the signing of a new agreement with the maintenance provider of NAIA, Sumitomo-Thales.

The measure is meant to prevent another “glitch” in the communications, navigation and surveillance/air traffic management (CNS/ATM) of NAIA similar to what happened earlier this month, which led to the cancellation of over 600 flights.

Currently, NAIA has no maintenance agreement since its system warranty with Sumitomo-Thales expired in 2020, according to Bautista.

Pending negotiations

As early as September 2022, DOTr initiated negotiations with Sumitomo-Thales for the maintenance of NAIA, but it is being hampered by the firm’s pending claims with the government.

“We met with Sumitomo-Thales a few weeks ago and we suggested that we negotiate for a permanent maintenance agreement pending the settlement of the issues,” Bautista said.

Also part of the negotiations, he said, is the system upgrades for the CNS/ATM.

“We need to upgrade the software. According to the supplier, they do two upgrades a year. And since 2020, we have not had any of the upgrades,” Bautista said.

Long-term solution

As a long-term solution to address the operational issues of NAIA, Bautista said they now plan to put up a permanent backup CNS/ATM for the said facility.

“It is important that we have a permanent back-up system which can be located in another site which can operate simultaneously with the existing system,” Bautista said.

He said they will prepare a feasibility study for the backup system, which they will be submitting to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) for consideration.

To ensure NAIA will be maintained, Bautista also reiterated their plans to “privatize” the operations of the facility through a concession agreement.

Under the concession agreement, he explained, the government will still maintain ownership of NAIA, but its operations will be outsourced to a third party.

Regulated fees

Last Monday, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. announced that the government is now in talks with a New York-based firm to boost the efficiency of the operations of NAIA.

The firm is currently operating several airports, including Gatwick Airport in London.

The proposal was opposed by labor groups, who expressed concern that the turnover of the NAIA operations will lead to mass displacement of airport workers and lead to a higher terminal fee for passengers.

Bautista gave assurances, however, that if the concession agreement pushes through, the third-party operator of NAIA will not be allowed to raise fees without authorization from the government.

“Government will have a say in the rates that the operators will impose.  So, it [concession agreement] does not mean there will be an immediate hike in [terminal fees],” Bautista said.

Image credits: Hossein Lohinejadian | Dreamstime.com