EDITORIAL - Waiting to soar

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In the past seven months the government has been preoccupied with implementing the bloody war on illegal drugs and defending it before the international community. With the brutal warfare called off following the kidnapping and murder of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo, hopes have been raised that the government can focus on other matters.

Among these is the sad state of the country’s air transportation sector. The other day the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines prodded the government to address the inadequacy of air transport facilities. In a policy brief, the JFC cited the 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness report released by the World Economic Forum, which ranked the Philippines last among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in terms of air transport infrastructure, and fifth among nine ASEAN economies in terms of air connectivity.

Air transport infrastructure includes not just airports but also air traffic management and institutions. Their poor quality in this country has been the subject of complaints and criticism for many years. Yet only minor improvements have been made.

The NAIA is no longer ranked as the world’s worst airport in a popular travel website, but it remains among the worst and is way behind the main gateways of most of the country’s Asian neighbors. An archipelago of over 7,100 islands benefits from air connectivity, but the Philippines suffers from an acute lack of secondary airports, and many of the existing ones lack night landing capability.

Poor international air connectivity also makes the country among the least competitive in terms of travel and tourism in the Asia-Pacific, despite having numerous attractive natural and manmade leisure destinations.

Even in terms of air transport safety, the policy brief noted the risks in putting a single agency in charge of both civil aviation regulation and development. This setup has been criticized for a long time, but so far there is still no official interest in separating the two functions.

Air transport infrastructure plays a critical role in economic growth and development efforts. Unless these inadequacies are addressed decisively, neighboring countries will continue to soar past the Philippines.

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