PAL to build hub in Clark

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Philippine Airlines, a company owned by taipan Lucio Tan, yesterday said that it will build a $50-million catering and maintenance facility at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark, Pampanga, as a part of its long-term plan to transfer its international flights to what it described as the country’s next premier gateway.

“Mr. Lucio Tan is very excited about the development of Clark as an international airport,” company president Jaime Bautista said in a news briefing. “Clark will become the premier airport in the country in the next five to seven years.”

This followed an earlier announcement by PAL’s main competitor, Gokongwei-owned budget carrier Cebu Pacific, that it would use Clark to fly to Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, Bangkok and Taipei. It also came at a time when government was planning to issue Executive Order No. 500-B, which would relax the rules on foreign budget carriers using Clark and Subic as stopover points to other Asian destinations.

Jose Perez Tagle, PAL’s assistant vice president for government affairs, said PAL initially planned to use Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in tandem with the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City for the airline’s regional flights to Korea, Japan and China.

“However, the exciting part is long-haul flights to such destinations as North America and Australia, which are not being offered by existing carriers in Clark,” Bautista said.

Bautista said it was natural for carriers to look at Clark as the next premier gateway because the international airport in Pasay City, which has only one international runway, was now congested and had no room for further expansion. He said PAL’s sister firm, budget carrier Air Philippines, would also likely relocate its hub to Clark. PAL and Air Philippines use the Centennial Terminal in Pasay City for their flights.

Under its master plan, Clark International Airport Corp. plans to construct three runways that will accommodate up to 40 million passengers each year. Regional budget carriers fetched some half a million passengers into and out of Clark last year, significantly up from less than 10,000 five years ago. Tourism advocates see the figure topping two million by 2010, with the issuance of EO 500-B.

Bautista said his company would make its final decision to transfer most of its flights to Clark from Pasay City, once Clark International Airport Corp. implemented its masterplan, including the land transportation of passengers from Metro Manila to Clark.

Foreign businessmen earlier said that Clark could become viable as an international airport only if the government put up a road or rail network that would cut travel time from Clark to the financial center of Makati City in less than one hour.

Bautista noted that Clark’s development was following the trend in other Asian countries, where larger airports were built outside the major cities.