Philippines: Revamped Cebu airport set to become major international hub
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Philippines: Revamped Cebu airport set to become major international hub

WITH air traffic at the country’s premier airport in Manila getting worse every day, the consortium that now runs operations at Mactan City International Airport Administration (MCIAA) says Cebu could become an alternative gateway for both domestic and international flights.

Andrew Acquaah-Harrison, chief executive of GMR-Megawide consortium, said the US$326 million expansion and management project will help ease air traffic congestion in Manila.

“Right now, we have 220 daily flights but we expect the volume to increase to 350 by 2018 when the Terminal 2 building is completed,” the British national said.

Harrison also said they expect passenger traffic to increase to 8.9 million by 2018.

At present, Cebu has an annual passenger volume of 4.7 million.

Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila currently struggles to handle more than 700 flights a day, making it one of Asia’s busiest airports.

Resort airport

The Cebu airport has undergone a noticeable makeover since the GMR-Megawide takeover of MCIAA with improved illumination and wider spaces at the pre-departure areas.

An opulent premier lounge was also “soft-opened” recently with sofas and tables mimicking lounges of 5-star hotels.

Further improvements should be in place by 2018.


Andrew Acquaah-Harrison (right), chief executive of GMR-Megawide consortium, says the Philippines ranks 5th as the most hospitable country in the world.Pic by Edwin Espejo

In addition, the Filipino-Indian consortium also transferred the taxi terminals allowing passengers to pick up their cabs right outside the arrival area.

GMR-Megawide is 60 percent Filipino owned while the rest is controlled by an Indian corporation.

Buses are now also available with drop off point at SM Cebu for only P25 (25 US cents).

All these improvements, GMR Megawide said, were introduced “at no cost to the passengers.”

“We want to make Cebu not only a destination but a gateway to both the Philippines and the rest of the world,” Harrison added.

He said the immediate goal is to make Mactan airport a resort airport.

“Tourism starts at the airport.  Tourists should feel that they are here at the moment they touch down,” the 48-year-old executive said at a dinner for a handful of reporters at the posh Plantation Bay resort.

He said he was amazed by the warmth and genuine smiles of Filipinos.

Cebu first gained international prominence when it was promoted as an “Island in the Pacific” in the 1970s to cover up for the bad publicity surrounding Martial Law in the Philippines.

The bulk of tourists then were Japanese.

Today, tourists are more multi-national with Koreans as the top arrivals in Cebu.

More flights, OFWs

GMR-Megawide said it wants to tap into the huge overseas Filipino worker (OFW) market.

According to Harrison, 34 percent of international passengers are OFWs.

“But less than 5 percent use Cebu as exit point,” he revealed.

He added that GMR-Megawide is investing in a 120-capacity dormitory for increased OFWs departing from Cebu as they negotiate with Emirates Airlines to open up daily flights to the Middle East.

They are also trying to lure back Cathay Airways, which previously suspended Cebu flights.

“We have come up with a routes development plan and are sending teams to make pitches to the airlines that Cebu could be a viable and profitable alternative gateway,” he said, that the airport will soon open direct Philippine Airline flights to San Francisco, Osaka in Japan and Dubai.


Airport expansion

GMR-Megawide outbid 6 others in cornering the management of MCIAA.

The multi-billion peso project includes a second terminal building adjacent to the existing one.

With construction already under way, GMR-Megawide expects the Terminal 2 building to be completed in 30 months.

Harrison revealed that the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) is already planning to build an additional runway to meet the growing passenger and air traffic in Cebu.

Harrison said this is unlikely to be completed before 2022.

“I have no idea when the government will do it.  But yes, we later will need another runway if we reach our targets,” he added.