Airport moments

I let out a big sigh after I read about the plans of Singapore to expand one of its airport terminal facilities.

As a straight news story, it’s just one of those things that Singapore does brilliantly. But, since I’m writing for a largely Filipino audience, making that straight news story relevant to my audience also involves a bit of a heartache on my part.

Changi Airport Group, the operator of Singapore’s 5 airport terminals, is basically planning to demolish its 6-year-old newly renovated Budget Terminal to make way for a new one that’s twice the size of the current.

Here’s why it’s a business school case study material:

  • Changi is proactive. There’s a definite deadline in the horizon: the open skies regime among Asean member countries will be in place by 2015.
  • Changi is being strategic. They can either wait for demand to really pick up after 2015 (anyway the Budget Terminal now still has ample capacity) or aim to already be in position ready to serve any spike in demand and leave the others eating your dust after 2015.
  • The expansion announcement is not a mere advice to passengers that they’ll be using Terminal 2 — and not Budget Terminal — starting September 2012 up to around 2013ish; It is also Changi’s way of dangling a positive for investors to consider. Possible bubble thoughts: Just imagine what better airport services await in 2015. And that’s just the airport!

The promise of perfection is inspiring.

But it is also annoying. It made me shake my head in deep pity to my country and myself.

An ideal decision like that of Changi’s exposes the imperfections — ugly imperfections — of a government and a cash-strapped country like mine.

The Philippines has been plagued by the fact that we almost always have that baggage called the budget deficit. Our fiscally unhealthy past has meant we always need to do some catching up since a part of our coffers is allocated to paying off previous decades’ loans.

The airport issue is a major pain since, as a journalist, I religiously followed the promises of different administration — only to end up following legal wrangling later on when these aviation projects go bust.

The sprawling airport complex in Clark, for example, has long been positioned as the future main gateway since the one right smack in the middle of capital Manila is physically constrained. But it’s over 1.5 decades since President Ramos “finalized” that plan. Just getting President Arroyo to sign a single memo to effect it during her 9 years was a roller-coaster ride.

Meantime, back in Manila airport, the space between landings and take-offs on the criss-crossed runway is stretched to accommodate more flights. It’s a single infrastructure that has been holding back the local aviation industry from maximizing its potentials — and limiting us passengers along the way.

We wait endlessly for flights that are delayed (they’re still likely hovering around Manila skies waiting for NAIA signal that they’re finally queued up to use the runway already). We are forced to take flights scheduled during ungodly hours (because that’s the only slot available for landings/take-offs).

And don’t get me started about how old NAIA-1 is, or how much opportunity cost we have suffered for using only half of NAIA-3 (the other half has structural issues).

Ah, pain.

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