The Philippines has significant potential for business and general aviation, but operators are being slowly squeezed out of Manila. As a result, other airports are making plans to fill the gaps in capacity, and the Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA) recently set out to study possible options.

At Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) slot shortages have reached a critical point, and as a stopgap measure, President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration has decided to gradually remove general and business aviation from the airport, much to the dismay and inconvenience to many operators and business aviation passengers.

Currently, business/general aviation is allotted only two slots per hour between 6 a.m. and noon, after which they are banned until 7 p.m. There are no slot limits between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. There are no expansion plans in place, creating uncertainty about the future of business aviation at NAIA.

Between January 24 and 26, AsBAA organized a study trip to the Philippines to present a group of business aviation stakeholders with alternatives to NAIA and various new opportunities to develop business aviation outside of Manila.

CLARK’S MASTER PLAN

One such alternative is Clark International Airport, located approximately 100 km (62 miles) from Manila. Once the largest U.S. Air Force base outside the America, Clark is now a relatively quiet but growing airport, serving both commercial flights and general aviation. Currently, it has a healthy ecosystem, with business aviation companies such as Metrojet and INAEC setting up there to exploit its vast infrastructure and access to international and domestic networks.

Metrojet has seen business quadruple over the last three years. It currently provides Part 145 MRO services across a wide range of aircraft types, as well as tire and battery services and is considering expanding its hangar space from 14 to 18 aircraft. Parking fees, which are significantly less than those in Hong Kong, also account for significant revenue.

The airport now serves 254 domestic and 166 international weekly flights and has seen growth of more than 50 percent year on year. And the number is set to rise, as Terminal 2 is already under construction and is due to open by first quarter 2020. It’s designed to handle 8 million passengers annually. Under a master plan drawn up by Aéroports de Paris, Clark aims to construct a second runway and serve 22 million in its second phase of development. Unlike Manila, Clark has plenty of real estate for expansion and envisions eventually operating three terminals handling 80 million passengers and cargo facilities, even adding a third parallel runway.

Furthermore, the Philippines government has allocated 9,450 hectares (23,351 acres) of land for the New Clark City, a second metropolis for businesses, meeting, conventions, and events. It is also in line with the construction of high speed rail between the capital and the airport, shortening travel time to one hour from the current three to four.

There is no doubt that Clark will be a promising business hub. However, as New Clark City thrives, so would the airport, a double-edged sword. As the airport grows, business and general aviation might once again receive less priority than commercial traffic.

Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC) manages the airport under the jurisdiction of Clark Development Corporation, which works with Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) on the development of the New Clark City. Critics think that the numerous levels of red tape and bureaucracy will hinder business aviation’s push for development within Clark itself.

SUBIC’S CLEAN SLATE

Another option for business and general aviation is Subic Bay International Airport, another 80 km (50 miles) farther from Manila than Clark. Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) chairperson and administrator Wilma T. Eisma aims to transform the airport into a thriving GA/BA complex.

“My vision is to make Subic Bay International Airport a business aviation airport,” she said, adding that she also sees it as a home for general aviation, MRO, and charter operators. “We can get spillover from neighboring airports like Clark, but I would rather court GA/BA heavily and have a niche for them to attract tourists with curated experiences,” she said.

Subic is set to become a thriving tourism and gaming destination, as Eisma told AIN that a Korean conglomerate will be opening an integrated resort, and Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Ovation of the Seas will make Subic Bay her port of call starting in June this year.

SBMA has also commenced studies with U.S. Trade Development Agency to privatize the airport within five years, before the end of the Duterte administration’s term.

Eisma added that the SBMA now has approximately 900 million pesos (US$17.6 million) reserved for the improvement work of Subic Airport, such as the installation of an ILS and AWOS for day, night, and instrument flying operations.

More than 200 hectares (494 acres) of land are earmarked for development at the airport, including plans to extend the 9,000-foot runway. Currently, there are four to five empty hangars available for operators, and air-taxi Air Juan and U.S.-jet company Aviation Concepts use another two.

However, the dearth of current operators may either attract or deter investors, resulting in a chicken-and-egg dilemma for GA/BA users. Also, the inaccessibility of Subic Bay to Manila and the lack of international connections from the airport would be something that SBMA would have to ponder. By land it will take three hours to circumnavigate the Manila Bay via Clark to the capital, or two hours by ferry into Manila Bay.

SO WHAT’S NEXT?

The casino industry accounts for significant potential in the Philippines, a new playground for high-value gamers. Manila itself now has four major integrated resorts: Pagcor, Resorts World Manila, Solaire Resort and Casino, and City of Dreams.

“It is becoming challenging and costly for us now, due to the restricted timing [at Manila]. We now have to ferry our clients and aircraft to Clark after our meeting in Manila,” said Alex Chan, head of aviation services for Melco Resorts and Entertainment, which owns City of Dreams. “If Clark really takes off, Manila could be eventually closed to GA/BA, which we do not want.”

The Philippines could be a favorite for aircraft parking with its extremely affordable parking rates. According to Chan, rates in Hong Kong for ramp parking are around $5,000 daily, while hangars at Clark could average approximately $2,000 a month.

Helicopter air taxis and even floatplanes might thrive, should general aviation be moved outside of Manila. Air-taxi Air Juan also flies Cessna Grand Caravan seaplanes from Manila Bay to Subic in 20 minutes.

“Business travelers are very time sensitive and [helicopters] would be most effective,” said Benjamin Lopez, INAEC Aviation president. The company operates a mixed fleet of Bell 429s, AW139s, EC135s and AS350B2s. “We have seen an increase in the use of helicopters with the current lack of intercity infrastructure and runway congestion. The way forward now is to get people familiar with this mode,” he concluded.

by Chen Chuanren