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Manila’s airport found to be structurally flawed

MANILA, Philippines >> A senior Philippine official said Friday that studies have found structural flaws in a 9-year-old Manila airport terminal that suffered a partial ceiling collapse in 2006.

Two engineering companies and one engineers’ association that examined Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Terminal 3 found flaws of varying degrees of seriousness, said Transportation and Communication Secretary Manuel Roxas II.

He said one study found only slight defects that can easily be fixed, another said it’s more serious and the third believes it’s “very serious.” The terminal was largely completed in 2002 but not opened until 2008 because of a legal fight between the government and the terminal consortium led by Germany’s Fraport AG.

Asked what the defects were, Roxas said: “Part of it design, part of it is the execution.” He did not elaborate.

A government attempt to open the showcase terminal in 2006 was marred when part of a ceiling collapsed. No one was injured.

Takenaka Corp., a Japanese company that was subcontracted by the consortium to build the terminal, maintains it has no defect.

Roxas said the government “has taken every precaution” to ensure passenger safety but that the measures are only “stop gap in nature and our objective is still to fix the structural flaws.”

The government will have the terminal subjected to stress tests using computer simulation and other procedures to determine the extent of the defects.

“Structural defect means it can fall on your head, so we have to resolve that,” Roxas said. “Isn’t it that the most responsible thing to do now is to find out which of these (assessments) is correct rather than just mindlessly react?”

The marble-and-glass terminal was embroiled in controversy from the beginning.

The government has been locked in a legal battle with Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc., the German-led consortium that was to operate the terminal for 25 years, after canceling its contract in 2002.

The government took over the facility but its opening was repeatedly delayed over the years as Fraport sued the Philippine government for expropriation without compensation. The Philippines has won international arbitration cases in Washington and Singapore.

Terminal operations have not been fully computerized including baggage handling because of ongoing talks with Takenaka to turn over the software for the system and to repair defects.

Roxas said Takenaka’s claim that the terminal has no defects carries some weight because the company “it is not a fly-by-night entity.” Takenaka has built major airports in Japan and was a contractor for Singapore’s Changi Airport, he said.

The terminal can handle 10 million passengers annually. Last year, the airport was used by 9.6 million passengers — 8.1 million domestic and 1.5 million international. Local budget airlines Cebu Pacific, PAL Express and Air Philippines plus Japan’s All Nippon Airways currently operate at the terminal.

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