MANILA, Philippines – The Ninoy Aquino International Airport-Terminal 3 (NAIA-3) finally opened on Tuesday, albeit initially for domestic use, capping an over decade-long wait marked by protracted, and still continuing, legal battles.
At 5:00 a.m. on Tuesday, a Cebu Pacific flight to Caticlan was the first to fly out of the once mothballed terminal. Michael T. Defensor, head of a presidential task force created to handle NAIA-3 affairs, described the opening as “a success for the Filipino people.”
NAIA-3 is expected to decongest the metropolis’ airport system, consisting of the NAIA Terminal 1 and the old Domestic Terminal, and the Philippine Airlines (PAL)-exclusive NAIA Terminal 2.
Airport officials estimate that the older facilities, designed to handle a combined total of 18 million passengers annually, are being used by 20 million travelers per year. At full capacity, NAIA-3 is expected to be able to handle 13 million passengers yearly.
With the partial opening, NAIA-3 will service select Cebu Pacific flights to and from Caticlan, San Jose in Mindoro, Naga, Tuguegarao, and Laoag until the airline is ready to transfer all its domestic flights to the terminal.
Cebu Pacific spokesperson Candice A. Iyog said the airline plans to move its entire domestic operations within the week and possibly its international operations later this year.
Transportation and Communications secretary Leandro R. Mendoza said NAIA-3 would be used by five major airlines. Aside from Cebu Pacific, only PAL’s low-cost PAL Express and Air Philippines brands will initially be using the airport. Select PAL flights are scheduled to begin tomorrow.
Initially conceptualized in the early ’90s with a group of tycoons interested in putting up the funds, the project was won in 1997 via bidding by a rival consortium, Philippine International Terminals Co. (Piatco). The project broke ground that year and an opening was set for 2002.
Allegations of impropriety, however, led to the Supreme Court nullifying Piatco’s contract in 2003, with the decision ruled as final a year later. Questions over the legality of the move, and the compensation that needed to be paid, led to the filing of lawsuits in both local and international courts by Piatco and its German partner, Fraport AG.
The cases have yet to be decided.
Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Alfonso G. Cusi said Tuesday’s opening was “the government’s answer to all the questions surrounding the airport.”
Tirso G. Serrano, MIAA head for airport development, said some minor technical issues still needed to be addressed. Baggage conveyor belts and computer systems that will fully automate the airport are among the systems that still need to be worked on, he said.