THE DEPARTMENT of Transportation (DoTr) awarded on Wednesday the P734-billion Bulacan airport project to private proponent San Miguel Holdings Corp.

In a signing ceremony at the department’s office in Clark, Pampanga, San Miguel Group President Ramon S. Ang said the company may commence construction of the gateway — officially called the New Manila International Airport — by December.

“I believe we will be able to do groundbreaking before end of the year,” Mr. Ang said, as the DoTr gave the company the Notice to Proceed yesterday.

Sinimulan na namin ang engineering nito about two years ago. Kaya ngayon na nabigyan kami ng go signal ni Secretary Tugade, mabilis na lang ito [We started the engineering work on the project about two years ago. So now that we’ve been given the green light by Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade, this will roll out quickly].”

San Miguel will select a contractor that will build the airport. It previously engaged Groupe ADP (Aéroports de Paris), Meinhardt Group and Jacobs Engineering Group for the design of the project.

Mr. Ang said Japanese, Korean and European airport operators have expressed interest in the project.

San Miguel will tap foreign banks for project financing, with 70% to be derived from bank loans and 30% from equity.

“Mostly Chinese banks and American banks,” Mr. Ang said.

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.

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

Aside from the airport itself, the project also includes construction of an 8.4-kilometer toll road that will link the gateway to the North Luzon Expressway. San Miguel estimates that, with the new road, travel between Makati City and the new airport will take around 30 minutes, and from Balintawak, Quezon City about 15 minutes.

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.

Once operational, the Bulacan airport is expected to contribute nearly P900 billion to the economy, according to a project briefing during the signing ceremony.

“We are grateful to President (Rodrigo R.) Duterte and (Mr. Tugade) for allowing us to undertake this historic project,” Mr. Ang said.

Mr. Tugade added: “It’s a game changer because we can come up with a facility that will compete with the world-class airports all over Asia and all over the world.” — Denise A. Valdez