Traffic and congestion in Philippine airports

Why the airports are NOT more fun in the Philippines

Traveling is supposed to be fun and exciting, not stressful and irritating. However, if you have a flight going in and out of any airport in the country, you’re sure to experience a whole new level of irritation in dealing with the chaos and pandemonium that has become standard in a Philippine airport.


Worst airport

The NAIA Terminal Airport got on the list of the world’s worst terminal in 2011 by Sleeping in Airports. On the plus side, we were listed along other major airports such as JFK in New York and CDG in Paris. Although the company is quite prestigious, it’s still not a type of list we want to be on.

For one thing, it still looks the same it did compared to last century when it opened. It is run down and filthy. What an awful first impression for foreign travelers. Second, it can be dangerous. The ceiling caved in last year, resulting in the injury of two people. Third, at the time it was rated, the toilets did not work. Also, theft and bribery have been known to occur in the airport.

In response, the Philippine government has taken some steps to renovate the airport. There is now toilet paper in the bathrooms of NAIA and sensors on the faucets. There’s a smiling attendant on duty to clean the bathroom. However, the airport traffic that results in flight delays is undoubtedly a major source of frustration for passengers.

It’s traffic in the airport

The three NAIA terminals have experienced a tremendous growth in the recent years. In 2009, NAIA processed an additional 11.4% of passengers, totaling 24.1 million people. In 2010, that number jumped on 27.1 million. In 2011, more than 29.5 million passengers flew in and out of the three NAIA. This places NAIA as one of the 50 busiest airports in the world by passenger traffic and certainly one of the busiest in Asia.

Our airport is only designed to handle 36 takeoffs and landings per hour. However, the current volume is at 45. The peak travel times are between 7am and 4pm, since most airlines have their departure and arrival times during this period.

Why is there traffic? For one thing, the sudden growth of our aviation industry is stressing the existing capacity of our airports. More and more people are flying, thanks to the boom of low cost carriers.

Request to decrease flights

In a move that seems counter to the push towards aviation growth and tourism, the DOTC has asked local carriers to reduce their flights. PAL President Ramon Ang has already agreed to cooperate to cut back on the number of flights.

Since we can’t build more runways right now, the government’s solution is to cutback on the users. What’s next, coding for airplanes?

Move general aviation operations

According to Ramon Gutierrez, the Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), one way to cut back on the number of flights in and out of NAIA is to move light aircraft and helicopter services away from the city. This way, NAIA will become focused primarily on commercial flights.

Small aircrafts are those that usually have five or less passengers. However, they can account for up to 17% of the total takeoffs and landings at NAIA. This is according to Avelino Zapanta, president of Southeast Asian Airlines.

Flight schools will have to move elsewhere, hopefully in the provinces to help clear the airspace and runways around NAIA.

Sangley Point in Cavite may be utilized by aircraft carrying seafood.

Better slotting


The scheduling of flights and airport slotting should be improved. This is the suggestion of Cebu Pacific. There should be better planning to help the country keep at par with other international airports.

Upgrades to the current airports

NAIA Terminal 1’s interior is being upgraded. While there are plans to convert it into a boutique airport, so far, nothing major can be seen. The official design team handling the transformation of NAIA 1 is Leandro V. Locsin & Associates, which is the firm that originally designed the current airport. The current plan will cost the government about P1.2 billion.

DOTC Secretary announced the plans to construct a rapid-exit taxiway. This can be used by both international and domestic flights to clear the runway at faster speeds. This then allows for another aircraft to use the runway.

Another improvement in the horizon is to light provincial airports. Providing night vision capability will allow provincial airports to move some of their flights to less peak times. Also, this should improve the safety of the airports since pilots will be able to see even in smoky, foggy or dark environments.

The airport in Boracay has no lights, which is why the last flight must be able to take off by 5pm. This can be a problem if there are flight delays and the flights get bumped off.

Finally, more airport tower and aerodome personnel are needed to man the night-rated airports. Aside from this, there is a need to set up more Customs, Immigration and Quarantine services in other airports other than NAIA. This will allow other carriers to have a base in other Philippine airports other than just NAIA.

Other improvements

The government should link the three terminals of the airports, similar to that in Singapore’s Changi airport, rather than bus the passengers. This will facilitate the transfer of passengers from one terminal to another.

There should also be a train system that links the metropolis to the airport. Osaka’s KIX airport is accessible by light rail train, just like San Francisco’s SFO airport is now accessible by BART train. This should decrease the traffic outside the airport since passengers can then use of the train instead of being dropped off at the airport.

The airspace around the airport should be cleared of obstructions. Residents in the south have been banned from breeding birds. Billboards should be taken down.

More clean bathrooms are needed, with diaper changing stations for traveling families. Perhaps showers and locker rooms can also be added. More seats in lounge and departure areas are also needed. WiFi should be made free and standard for business travelers. The food concessionaires should be improved, as well as the duty free stores to help keep the passengers entertained while waiting for flights. Baggage handlers should stop asking for tips because it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

We need more runways or at least lengthen the ones we currently have. Paris’s CDG airport has two pairs of runways. Singapore’s Changi has plans to open a third runway. If you have more traffic, you need more roads, or in this case, runways.

If we truly want to improve our tourism industry, we need to make our country more accessible. Improving our imports to make it at par with world-class standards is one way to do it. Addressing flight delays is a must. The solution is not to band-aid the existing problems or distract the passengers with noisy rondalla music. We want to impress travelers with our cleanliness, efficiency and well thought of design, so that even if there is a flight delay, they won’t necessarily mind being stuck in a safe, beautiful and efficient airport.


Photo: “Manila airport, Philippines – Philippine Airlines terminal” by Marc van der Chijs, c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved