CLARK FREEPORT – Victor Jose Luciano dreamed it for a long time. The hopes of Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC) President and CEO are now turning slowly into reality. The Filipino airport is in the midst of an unprecedented traffic boom due to the arrival of AirAsia Philippines and the strengthening of SEAir’s (Southeast Asian Airline) network following its take-over by Singapore-based low cost airline Tiger Airways. Numbers speak for themselves: last year, passengers at Clark-Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) reached 767,000 passengers including 725,023 on international flights. This was a growth of or a 19-percent increase for the year 2011. Growth is accelerating this year, following the arrival of AirAsia Philippines.
The total number of passengers at Clark International Airport (CIA) increased by 54% in the first half of 2012 to 548,000 passengers, authorities revealed a few weeks ago. For the first time, Clark will overpass the million mark with numbers likely to range between 1.1 and 1.25 million passengers. According to seats capacity data, low cost airlines account already for about 90% of total capacity at Clark with the largest share being taken by the AirAsia Group (AirAsia Philippines has 33% of all capacities while AirAsia Bhd from Malaysia adds another 10% to the total). It is followed by SEAir (17%) and AirPhil Express- a subsidiary of Philippine Airlines (16%). Cebu Pacific has only 13% as it main operation to Manila is at the main airport NAIA. Clark welcomes for now only two legacy full-service carriers, Dragonair and Asiana.
AirAsia is also now present on international routes with flights to Hong Kong, Macau and Kuala Lumpur. The airline is likely to add flights to other AirAsia major gateways such as Bangkok, Jakarta as well as Singapore. The airline flies also to Puerto Princesa, Kalibo and Davao. SEAir stepped up its presence at Clark Airport at the end of July. The carrier fliers currently five routes (Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kalibo, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore) and will increase its presence during the winter timetable.
Victor Jose Luciano is now confident that Clark Airport is likely to reach 5 million passengers a year before the end of the decade. It will then request to expand the terminal which currently has a capacity for 2.5 million passengers. The CEO unveils that plans have been approved to construct a low cost terminal inspired from the LCCT terminal in Kuala Lumpur. The terminal would be able to accommodate ten million passengers a year to a cost estimated at US$ 47.5 million dollars. The bidding process for the second phase of the expansion of the existing terminal already started with a completion of the new facility due by 2015.
Clark Airport has been long seen as Manila new international gateway replacing overcrowded NAIA, Manila’s main international airport. Grand plans in the previous Filipino administration predicted a future development for 50 million passengers. But plans have now been scaled back as they are deemed as unrealistic due to financing constraints. A major handicap for Clark Airport to become Manila’s principal gateway is its distance to the city. Clark is located some 85 km away from Manila city centre. Although, a brand new highway links the airport to the outskirts of the city in less than an hour, congestion on Manila roads is so horrendous that it takes another hour and a half to reach Manila city centre or Makati. Busses commuting between Clark and Manila generally tell their passengers that the ride would last up to two hours and a half on average.
For long, Mr. Luciano talked about a dedicated high-speed rail link. Five years later, not a single rail track has been laid to Clark Airport and the rail remains a distant dream. The access issue will still determine for long the fate of Clark as Manila’s new international gateway. However, it will not hamper anymore DMIA transformation into the largest low cost airport of the Philippines.