By Ashley Erika O. Jose, Reporter

ABOITIZ InfraCapital, Inc. is eyeing to develop more airports in the country after securing the original proponent status (OPS) for the development, management, and expansion of two regional airports, the company’s president said.

“Yes, we are definitely interested in developing some of our airports, other than the ones for which we have secured OPS for,” Cosette V. Canilao, president and chief executive officer of Aboitiz InfraCapital, said in an interview last week.

The infrastructure arm of the Aboitiz group has submitted unsolicited proposals for the operations, maintenance, and development of New Bohol-Panglao International Airport, Bicol International Airport, Laguindingan International Airport, and Iloilo International Airport.

The Transportation Department has said that companies willing to match the proposal of Aboitiz InfraCapital for Laguindingan International Airport and New Bohol-Panglao International Airport will have their chance within the first quarter of the year.

The company is awaiting the terms to begin the Swiss challenge for Laguindingan International Airport as soon as possible, Ms. Canilao said.

“The government has already approved the Laguindingan Airport, so it is now just the transmittal of the terms,” she said.

Rafael M. Aboitiz, vice-president and head of Airport Business at Aboitiz InfraCapital, said the company is “very bullish” on the aviation sector.

“We feel that domestic tourism is very strong, and there’s a long runway ahead for international tourism as well. The world should get to know the Philippines a little bit better,” he said.

He said that future airport developments are still under study as the company focuses on projects in the pipeline.

“Since we have a lot of projects in the pipeline, we want to focus on securing the projects for the three airports we’re looking at. We’re also waiting to see how the government wants to pursue PPP programs, whether it’s through solicited or unsolicited programs as well,” he said.

Nigel Paul C. Villarete, senior adviser on public-private partnership (PPP) at the technical advisory group Libra Konsult, Inc., said Aboitiz InfraCapital is deemed capable of operating regional airports as it already operates the Mactan-Cebu International Airport.

“Having many different operators, for as long as they are competent, would always be preferable, but not necessary. Aboitiz InfraCapital is very much capable, if they can do Mactan, they can do all the others,” Mr. Villarete said in a Viber message to BusinessWorld on Thursday.

In 2022, Aboitiz InfraCapital finalized a deal with Megawide Construction Corp. and GMR Airports International, B.V., allowing it to acquire shares in GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp., the company behind the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA).

“Unlike most other countries in the world, except for NAIA and MCIA, CAAP (Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines) manages and regulates all other airports causing a situation where one regulates what one manages,” he said.

Mr. Villarete said Aboitiz InfraCapital’s proposals to operate and rehabilitate airports will likely address the need to separate civil regulation and airport operations.

“This upcoming proposal might somewhat cure that but it would still be really necessary to create an airport authority, separate from CAAP similar to what is existing in other countries,” he said.

Terry L. Ridon, a public investment analyst and convenor of think tank InfraWatch PH, said Aboitiz InfraCapital’s recent acquisition of Mactan-Cebu International Airport is a starting point of expanding its capability towards upgrading smaller airports in the country.

“While the public has yet to see whether Aboitiz InfraCapital has gained significant technical expertise in airport operations as a result of its recent acquisition of the Mactan Cebu International Airport, it should still be able to compete for the development of smaller regional airports around the country,” he said in a Viber message.

“It can be presumed that Aboitiz can raise the money to upgrade regional airports. In the long run, it is better to have other parties but the government can’t prevent Aboitiz from proposing in the hope that another would enter,” said Rene S. Santiago, former president of the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines.

Aboitiz InfraCapital is also involved in the MIAC consortium, which is among the qualified groups bidding to operate, maintain, and upgrade the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

The MIAC consortium submitted the lowest bid among the bidders, offering a 25.9% revenue share to the government.

The Department of Transportation is expected to announce the winning bidder for the NAIA project on Feb. 16, pending the approval of the bidding report by the Manila International Airport Authority.