Infrastructure News Analysis Tourism

The World’s First Resort Airport

While Manila International Airport continues to lurch from controversy to controversy, and as calls to make Clark International the new Gateway to the Philippines fall ever more silent, one airport is quietly going about its business and building a reputation for quality and efficiency with international carriers queuing up to land there.

Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) in the Central Visayas region, the busiest after Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), is arguably the best-run airport in the country. And as NAIA is continually berated as “the worst airport in the world,” Mactan International’s reputation as one of the top airports in the region is growing.

Unlike NAIA, however, which is managed by state-owned Manila International Airport Authority, operations and maintainance at Mactan are carried out by a private consortium comprising the Philippine’s Megawide Construction Corporation and India’s GMR Infrastructure, part of the Bangalore-based GMR Group which specialises in airport construction.

The consortium, which to date has invested US$678 million in the project, is presently engaged in building a second terminal at Mactan to cope with the increased flight traffic. Terminal 2, which will totally transform the airport, is expected to be completed by 2018. Passenger flows through MCIA topped 8 million last year, up from 6.9 million in 2014. This year, 8.9 million travellers are expected to pass through the terminal.

But the consortium didn’t just concentrate on producing a stunning design for the new facility and streamlining the existing airport’s efficiency by commissioning a detailed analysis of traffic flows as well as improving passenger-traffic movement through the concourse, it also marketed the Mactan International product with an airline incentive programme for landing charges, persuaded international flag carriers to fly there and worked directly with tour agencies in Japan and South Korea. And it paid off.

Six new international routes and additional flight frequencies have been added in the two years that Megawide-GMR have been running the airport. These are: Osaka with 7 flights per week (f/w); Nagoya (4 f/w); Los Angeles (3 f/w); Dubai (7 f/w); Xiamen (3 f/w), Taipei (4 f/w, Cebu Pacific; 4 f/w, EVA Air).  Other destinations have increased flight frequencies: Narita (7 f/w Philippine Airlines [PAL]; 4 f/w Cebu Pacific); Pusan, South Korea (Jin Air, 7 f/w). Cathay Pacific and Silk Air have also increased frequencies for their existing routes.

PAL has also set up a transfer facility at MCIA, allowing passengers ease of connection: 60 minutes for domestic-to-domestic; 90 minutes for international-to-international and international-to-domestic transfers. And travellers from the Visayas and Mindanao regions can completely bypass Manila by transferring through Mactan.

Unlike Clark International, which has basically cleaned up and refined the existing airport buildings of the old Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, Mactan has been custom designed and is being billed as “The World’s First Resort Airport”.

When completed, MCIA will be more than just an air terminus. It will be the best looking airport in the country with a modern bespoke design that encapsulates Cebuano culture. It will have capacity for 149 check-in counters (presently there are 44), a handling capacity of 12.5 million passengers a year, seven boarding bridges with expansion facilities for a further five, an inline, automatic baggage-handling system and a complex of stores and cafes and airport lounges with an adjoining “Village Mall”.

And as stories of leaking roofs, filthy toilets and falling ceiling tiles continue to dog Manila International along with the litany of extortion rackets that are carried out there, MCIA has grown from a small domestic airport to a major regional one and is now on a flight path to becoming an international hub with a reputation for efficiency, quality amenities and ease of travel.