25 Feb 2020
New BRI-Backed International Airport Inaugurated in the Philippines
Project to provide Manila with second international air transit facility proceeds with China financial deal in place.
The Sangley Point International Airport (SPIA) – one of the Philippines’ key Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects – was inaugurated earlier this month. Set in Cavite, some 35km south-west of the Metro Manila region, the move followed an announcement by the local provincial government that an ad hoc consortium – comprising China’s state-run China Communications Construction Co. (CCCC) and MacroAsia Corp, a Makati City-based property developer run by Lucio Tan, the owner of Philippine Airlines – would be taking on overall responsibility for the project.
Following an earlier feasibility study, the project was green lit by the two partner nations in line with a Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative, which dates back to November 2018. This would see the China Development Bank provide about 75% of the estimated PHP550 billion (US$10 billion) cost of the project. This will be in the form of a 25-year loan (including a 10-year grace period) at an annual interest rate of 2-3%. A number of Chinese state-owned enterprises will cover an additional 23% of the costs via equity financing.
Currently only servicing domestic flights, the expanded Sangley Airport will incorporate the Danilo Atienza Air Base as it moves to accommodating international departures and arrivals. The project is essentially seen as key means of easing the chronic flight delays and congestion that characterise Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), Manila’s only international air terminal.
In part, this will be facilitated by the transfer of the General Aviation Area (Gen-Av) and its hangars, which currently occupy a large proportion of NAIA’s overall acreage. Ultimately, when all the planned build phases have been completed, the revamped 1,500-hectare SPIA will feature four runways as well all the required ancillary airside and landside facilities. Once fully commissioned, it is anticipated that it will have an annual passenger throughput of some 130 million.
At present, the first phase is scheduled to be completed in 2022. It is no coincidence that this also marks the end of the current term in office of Rodrigo Duterte, the President of the Philippines. Indeed, he has already vowed to take his last flight in his official capacity from SPIA to Davao, his hometown. In order to ensure the country’s leader is not disappointed, it is believed that the project has already been fast tracked.
In line with this, the planned transfer of domestic and general aviation operations to SPIA was completed in the autumn of last year. This required the prioritisation of work on the planned passenger terminal building, hangars and a new tower, as well as the installation of the specified night operations equipment and the full implementation of an asphalt overlay across the existing 2,300-metre runway. With all of this completed, the airport had its initial operational dry run and welcomed its first cargo flight on 27 October last year.
For the airport to operate effectively, it will now require a substantial investment in its transport infrastructure, allowing it to be directly linked to the NAIA and the wider Metro Manila region. In order to deliver on this, a number of proposals have been put forward, including extending the Manila-Cavite Expressway – the 14km-long, limited-access toll expressway that links Manila and Cavite – to SPIA. While the company behind the expressway – the Metro Pacific Tollways Corp (MPTC) – has expressed interest in the project, its estimated cost of US$6 billion may yet prove prohibitive.
Another option under consideration is scaling up the 15-minute high-speed ferry service that runs from Pasay City’s SM Mall of Asia to SPIA. The possibility of constructing a rail link from the new airport that would feed into the country’s existing train network has also been raised. The latter option would deliver a 35-minute transit time between the airport and the heart of the Metro Manila business district.
Geoff de Freitas, Special Correspondent, Manila