Safety Concerns Delay Opening of New Manila Terminal

The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) yesterday has postponed anew the opening of Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA-3) on safety issues.

Set by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the terminal's initial opening, called rolling opening, was earlier scheduled for end-March. Two airlines were tapped to mount flights in the opening.

In a statement, MIAA General Manager Alfonso G. Cusi said the new postponement was to ensure safety against structural defects.

He added the decision was arrived at based on the recommendation of TCGI Engineers, Inc. and Ove Arup & Partners HK Ltd., both of which were contracted to review the structural design and construction of the mothballed terminal.

In a letter to Mr. Cusi, Ove Arup said: "The use of the facility at this time, even in a limited scale, is not advisable as this will expose users of the facility to life safety risks. It is important that the deficiencies identified in the structural evaluation are fully addressed before the facility can be used."

In a separate letter, TCGI Engineers said: "We are convinced that if Terminal 3 is now operated even on a limited scale as contemplated in the planned 'rolling opening,' users of the facility, such as passengers, well- wishers, airport personnel and other occupants will be exposed to life safety risks, most especially in the event of a major earthquake."

Following receipt of these letters, Mr. Cusi wrote Ken Kurebayashi, project director of Takenaka Corp. for the NAIA-3 project, to immediately "rectify the defects in the structural works" of the terminal.

"We urge you to consider this as an urgent matter in order to ensure the safety of millions of passengers and airport employees who will eventually use the terminal," said Mr. Cusi's letter to Mr. Kurebayashi.

MIAA ordered the structural review last year after the collapse of a portion of the ceiling of the lobby during a test-run operation preparatory to a partial opening of the facility.

"The schedule of the formal opening of NAIA-3 is now largely dependent on when Takenaka can finish the structural remediation works," Mr. Cusi said, adding it will be able to make a fair estimate of when the terminal will be opened "as soon as Takenaka completes its work."

Takenaka of Japan was the general contractor hired by the Philippine International Air Terminals Co., Inc. consortium to construct the facility.

NAIA-3 was acquired by the National Government through expropriation proceedings upon payment of "just compensation" following a controversy that reached the Supreme Court.

In a pre-final report to MIAA on its structural review, TCGI said that while "there is no cause for concern about foundation instability, the structure of Terminal 3, as constructed, has not fully complied with the original design intent developed by the structural designer, Meinhardt."

"There are violations of code requirements on life safety issues, specifically on the capacity of the facility to prevent structural collapse and loss of lives in the event of a major earthquake," TCGI's report added.

Particularly, it said that remediation works need to be undertaken on a number of beams, girders and post-tension slabs, as well as columns and piles. The foundations of the vehicular access ramp were also declared unstable, while the deck slab and columns required remediation.

Meanwhile, in Tacloban City, Presidential Assistant for Eastern Visayas Victor A. Domingo said he will ask Mrs. Arroyo to fast-track the restoration and rehabilitation of the Daniel Z. Romualdez (DZR) Airport here by ordering the release of funds.

Mr. Domingo said Leyte and the rest of Eastern Visayas might not attract as many investments since the airport in Tacloban could not accommodate huge aircraft. He cited the Philippine Airlines plane that overshot the runway last month.

"We want to avoid a similar incident. That will discourage other airlines companies from flying to Tacloban City. There should be an immediate action to this matter.

"We are talking of lives here and we don't want to wait for more accidents to happen before the government acts on it," Mr. Domingo said.

The rehabilitation of the airport, which was included in the Selected Airports Development Project being financed by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, has been delayed for at least two years due to lack of counterpart funds.

Last year, P600 million intended for the Tacloban airport was realigned for the purchase of search-and-rescue vessels for the Department of Transportation and Communications.

"The project has been delayed for more than two years now. We are running out of time. The Japanese government might just pull out its funds if the government will not take immediate action," Mr. Domingo said.

He said he will also bring the matter to the attention of the Regional Development Council.

The council endorses projects for funding either by the National Government or through official development assistance.

The airport project involves the improvement of the runway and the construction of a new terminal building, a control tower and a fire station.