By Beatrice M. Laforga

THE NATIONAL ECONOMIC and Development Authority’s (NEDA) Investment Coordination Committee (NEDA-ICC) on Friday approved a proposal by a consortium made up of some of the country’s biggest firms to rehabilitate the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Pasay City, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia and Transportation Undersecretary for Planning Ruben S. Reinoso, Jr. said in separate interviews, placing the project a step away from final approval.

“That’s correct,” Mr. Pernia said by phone when asked if the project was approved in the morning NEDA-ICC meeting, adding that “the next step is to have it certified or confirmed by the NEDA Board, last step before the Swiss challenge” in which other parties are allowed to match the proponent’s offer.

Mr. Reinoso said in a text message that the Department of Transportation (DoTr) and the consortium “still need to negotiate final terms of the draft agreement” before the proposal is approved by the NEDA Board, headed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

The NAIA consortium — composed of Aboitiz InfraCapital, Inc.; AC Infrastructure Holdings Corp.; Alliance Global Group, Inc.; Asia’s Emerging Dragon Corp.; Filinvest Development Corp.; JG Summit Holdings, Inc.; and Metro Pacific Investments Corp. — plans to rehabilitate and expand NAIA over a 15-year period for P102 billion, increasing the airport’s capacity to 47 million in the first two years of operation and then to 65 million after four years.

Manila’s premier air gateway has long been exceeding its designed capacity, accommodating 45.3 million passengers last year, 42 million passengers in 2017 and 39.5 million in 2016 against its 30.5-million passenger capacity.

NAIA’s congestion has prompted a few groups to propose either its rehabilitation or the construction of a separate gateway. DoTr on Wednesday last week awarded the P734-billion Bulacan airport project to private proponent San Miguel Holdings Corp. which is supposed to decongest NAIA. Groundbreaking is planned before yearend. The project involves construction of a 2,400-hectare airport with four parallel runways (expandable to six runways), eight taxiways and three passenger terminal buildings. The first two runways are expected to be finished in three years at the earliest, while the rest will be completed in four to five years.

Aside from the NAIA consortium, three other unsolicited airport development and operation and maintenance (O&M) proposals have been awaiting approval by the NEDA-ICC: Aboitiz InfraCapital, Inc. for Bohol Panglao International Airport; Chelsea Logistics and Infrastructure Holdings Corp. for Davao International Airport upgrade s; and Mega7 Construction Corp. for the Kalibo International Airport.

Mr. Pernia, NEDA’s director general, added that the NEDA ICC had also discussed the Bohol Panglao airport proposal but withheld approval. “It just needs a revision… of the phases… stages of the project,” he said in his text message. “They will do it right away.” — with inputs from Denise A. Valdez