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9 key benefits of improving the Ninoy Aquino International Airport


August 18, 2023

airport terminal

In 2022, a total of 30,912,162 international and domestic passengers passed through Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). In the same period, the country’s second-busiest airport, Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA), saw 5,560,258 passengers pass through its terminals. With over 5.5 times the passenger traffic, NAIA is undoubtedly the country’s most important aerial gateway and it will likely be the case for several more years.

But as impressive as NAIA’s numbers are on the surface, the airport can still learn more from MCIA. As of late, MCIA has been receiving praise from both passengers and aviation industry experts amid a series of redevelopment projects and innovative practices. Since the start of its redevelopment, passengers and businesses that frequently use both airports have signaled a preference for MCIA, and the massive ongoing increase in passenger and cargo traffic shows a growing confidence in its facilities and long-term potential. With Aboitiz InfraCapital (AIC) taking over the operation, maintenance, and further improvement of the airport in 2022, more innovations can be expected from MCIA moving forward, particularly in the use of digital science and artificial intelligence tools to improve logistics efficiency and passenger comfort.

With NAIA’s role as a primary entry point unlikely to be diminished over the next several years, however, it’s important to consider the benefits that key updates might bring, given the almost incalculable value it already brings to the national economy. Using MCIA as a model, let’s explore several key advantages that should arise from upgrading this vital transportation hub:

1) Enhanced tourism

With its last major updates having taken place in the 2000s, NAIA’s facilities are starting to strain under the ever-increasing number of passengers, many of whom have no other option for entering the country. Given that the Philippines is heavily reliant on NAIA to manage a huge proportion of its tourist arrivals and departures, the overcrowding at the airport is starting to dissuade tourists from exploring the country. 

As MCIA’s redevelopment efforts have shown, better facilities should result in a boost in tourism, consequently leading to more jobs created in the tourism and hospitality industries as well as more robust economic growth. Upgrading NAIA means better services for travelers, including shorter queues, improved security measures, comfortable waiting areas, and various amenities. A pleasant travel experience should foster positive impressions of the country, encourage word-of-mouth recommendations, and further promote Philippine tourism abroad.

Most importantly, improving NAIA will attract repeat visits to the Philippines. Aside from being a great thing for the tourism industry, these repeat visits may be instrumental in convincing foreign tourists to become investors, further bettering domestic employment and economic performance over the long term. As such, improvements to NAIA should be fast-tracked to aid not just the country’s tourism industry but also the wider economy.

2) More foreign investment

As discussed earlier, better airports tend to mean more foreign investments. This is down to two important reasons. First, airports provide an important logistics link for archipelagic countries like the Philippines. Second, the ability of a country’s public and private sectors to facilitate complex airport development and management operations is often used by foreign observers as a way to gauge the difficulty of investing within a country. As such, inefficient and unpleasant airports tend to create unfavorable impressions on foreign investors. 

As the country seeks to boost domestic employment and economic growth through foreign investment, it will need to upgrade NAIA to competitive international standards. By bringing NAIA’s facilities better in line with its global counterparts, the country will be more attractive to investors seeking to establish businesses or expand operations in the Philippines. Upgrading NAIA is, therefore, not just a matter of passenger comfort and national prestige but also a prerequisite for building a stronger economy and providing a better quality of life for all Filipinos.

3) Streamlined cargo operations

An improved NAIA will not only benefit passenger traffic but also enhance cargo operations. Upgrading air cargo handling facilities and logistics will expedite the movement of goods, supporting trade and commerce. This increase in efficiency should positively impact almost every industry, including the country’s valuable manufacturing and e-commerce sectors.

As NAIA is located inside the country’s primary economic center, it already handles a significant proportion of all the country’s air cargo. Further improvements to improve NAIA’s cargo handling should help increase trade efficiency, boost export capabilities, and attract more international businesses. 

4) Improved airline competitiveness

Airports need to consider more than just passenger and cargo handling. They have to meet the difficult demands of airline companies as well. Airports with subpar passenger and cargo handling performance are much less likely to attract major international carriers, consequently reducing their functionality as tourism or logistics hubs. With NAIA’s facilities now operating at their limits, it may be time to consider upgrades to allow it to attract a wider range of airlines.

With enhanced facilities and efficient services, NAIA can offer international carriers a more competitive experience. In turn, these carriers may become more willing to offer regular flights to the airport, increasing its desirability for passengers and logistics businesses. As shown in MCIA, this improvement in airline competitiveness will lead to increased passenger traffic and greater revenue for the airlines, benefiting the Philippine aviation industry and the economy as a whole.

5) Better domestic connectivity

planes on runway in modern airport

While we have already discussed NAIA’s role in facilitating the Philippines’ international trade and tourism, it also plays an important role in connecting the country’s various regions. Improving NAIA’s terminals and making them more efficient is, therefore, critical for improving interisland trade, tourism, and cultural exchanges. With Metro Manila likely to remain the country’s premier political, economic, and cultural center for the foreseeable future, NAIA should not only serve as a gateway to the world but also as a seamless connector between the nation’s diverse regions. 

6) Reduced carbon footprint

As MCIA has demonstrated, modernized airports can play a role in slowing down climate change. Having greener airports is especially critical as aviation is likely responsible for about 2.5% of global CO₂ emissions and 3.5% of non-CO₂ climate impacts. Though these emissions are largely caused by aircraft, airports themselves also cause a massive impact on the environment, as facilities such as NAIA’s generally require massive amounts of energy and materials to safely sustain day-to-day operations.

MCIA’s innovative environment-friendly practices show that there are other ways forward that reduce civil aviation’s impact on the climate. By implementing energy-efficient systems, offsetting its fossil fuel requirements with renewable solar energy, and promoting sustainability programs like its plastic-free initiative, MCIA was able to significantly reduce its carbon footprint compared to similar-sized facilities elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region. These actions align with global efforts to combat climate change and strengthen the Philippines’ position as a responsible and sustainable destination.

Applying green approaches to NAIA’s future redevelopment should allow infrastructure developers to implement carbon-reducing solutions on a substantive scale. Given that NAIA is larger and requires more extensive facilities than MCIA, applying green solutions similar to MCIA’s should result in massive savings in carbon emissions at NAIA. If done well, climate-conscious redevelopment approaches at NAIA will result in a cleaner environment as well as lower operating costs, resulting in wins for all the airport’s stakeholders.

7) Greater disaster resilience

A better NAIA will not only do its share to slow down the ongoing climate crisis but it will also be better-suited to help Filipinos all over the country during natural calamities. By incorporating disaster-resilient features and improving the efficiency of its facilities, the airport will be more resistant to serious damage from future emergencies. This added resilience ensures that even in times of crisis, the airport can continue its operations with minimal disruption, facilitating emergency relief efforts and ensuring passenger safety.

8) Increased skills diversity

Business people worker team

NAIA’s very presence already contributes to skills diversity within the Philippines. The unique demands of the many airlines, logistics companies, retailers, tourism businesses, and hospitality services tied to the airport have already resulted in a rich skills ecosystem that has benefitted the wider economy. The further improvement and expansion of NAIA should further amplify skills diversity within the Philippines, opening up even more opportunities for the country’s workforce.

9) Boosted national image

Lastly, modern and efficient airports reflect positively on the systems that made them possible. Successfully modernizing NAIA will help showcase the Philippines as a progressive, welcoming, and forward-looking country. This perception is not only valuable for attracting investors but also for creating goodwill among important foreign visitors and members of the Philippine diaspora. In its small way, an efficient, more comfortable NAIA may contribute to improved international relations and global prestige.

Empowering progress, one airport at a time

Though it may eventually be replaced by New Manila International Airport in Bulacan and Sangley Point Airport in Cavite, Ninoy Aquino International Airport clearly has many more decades of life left in it. Upgrading NAIA should ensure that the historic airport is not only able to cope with the demands and realities of a booming economy but is transformed into a symbol that Filipinos are willing to rally behind.

And while such a vision may seem far-fetched, it is already well within the country’s grasp. In 2023, Aboitiz InfraCapital, AC Infrastructure Holdings, Asia’s Emerging Dragon, Alliance Global-Infracorp Development, Filinvest Development, JG Summit Infrastructure Holdings, and Global Infrastructure Partners came together to form the Manila International Airport Consortium (MIAC), a major initiative intended to give NAIA much-needed updates. Should the MIAC’s proposals be accepted, NAIA will be on track to becoming one of the Asia-Pacific region’s most developed airports.

As Aboitiz InfraCapital, GMR Group, and Megawide Construction Corporation show in their commitment to continuously improve Mactan-Cebu International Airport, serious partnerships can make any project achievable. With close cooperation between public policymakers, business leaders, and other stakeholders, NAIA may one day become an international gateway that all Filipinos could be proud of.

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