Work on the Bulacan airport project is expected to start by the fourth quarter. Courtesy of San Miguel Corp.

By Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporter

SAN MIGUEL Corp. is planning to break ground on the P734-billion Bulacan airport project in October, according to the Department of Transportation (DoTr).

“They said they will do the groundbreaking after the ghost month,” Transportation Assistant Secretary Goddes Hope O. Libiran told BusinessWorld in a phone message on Monday.

“Ghost month” refers to the seventh month in the Chinese lunar calendar. In business, starting a venture during this month is believed to be inauspicious. This year, ghost month runs from Aug. 19 to Sept. 16.

Groundbreaking for the airport mega-project was initially scheduled in January.

SMC Chief Finance Officer Ferdinand K. Constantino said during the company’s annual stockholders’ meeting on June 30 the Bulacan airport project will proceed despite the coronavirus crisis. He said jobs that will be created through SMC’s projects will help reset the economy.

San Miguel Holdings Corp. (SMHC) is the SMC subsidiary handling the project, which involves the construction of a 2,400-hectare aviation hub 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.

SMHC and DoTr signed the concession agreement for the airport in September 2019. Under the concession deal, SMHC will build, operate and maintain the New Manila International Airport for 50 years.

The project also includes the construction of an 8.4-kilometer toll road which will link the gateway to the North Luzon Expressway.

San Miguel tapped Groupe ADP (Aeroports de Paris), Meinhardt Group and Jacobs Engineering Group for the design of the project.

The airport targets to have an annual capacity of 100 million travelers, which the government hopes will help decongest Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City.

However, Avelino D.L. Zapanta, an aviation industry expert, remains skeptical about the proposed airports in Bulacan and Cavite, especially as the country faces a crisis.

“I have been skeptical about both the Bulacan and Sangley projects. I believe the timetable for both will now be pushed back if not terminated,” he said in a recent e-mail interview, adding that the airports are currently “the ones putting much restrictions on airline operations.”

Aside from the Bulacan airport, another airport project is being proposed in Sangley, Cavite. The province of Cavite has yet to receive from MacroAsia Corp. and its Chinese partner the post-qualification requirements for the proposed $10-billion Sangley Point International Airport.

“Even the local government units that used to court airport construction are the ones rejecting flights. Unless the vaccine is discovered, the apprehension will remain and the demand will remain weak,” Mr. Zapanta, former CEO and president of Philippine Airlines, said.