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Given the Philippines’ archipelagic composition, airports have long played a significant role in the transportation infrastructure of the country. Along with seaports, domestic airports are a primary gateway for the movement of people, goods, and services in the country. However, as an archipelago, the country is also highly vulnerable to progressively worsening weather conditions, rising sea levels and other effects of climate change.
To help reduce the impact of climate change and other environmental challenges on the Philippines, airport operations and maintenance services in the country must prioritize sustainability. In this article, we will discuss sustainability in the context of Philippine airport operations and maintenance and the reasons why it should be a top priority.
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Immediate Economic Concerns
The Philippines is an archipelagic country of over 7,000 islands with a total area larger than the United Kingdom and just slightly smaller than the state of California in the US. The country’s large size and geographically fragmented nature make airports especially important pieces of connecting infrastructure.
While there are numerous environmental costs associated with them, airports provide critical internal linkages between the country’s most populated islands. Also, given the Philippines’ absence of land borders, the country’s handful of key international airports provide it with important links to the outside world. With the country’s economy growing and becoming more heavily reliant on trade and tourism, the quantity and quality of the country’s airports are fated to play a significant role in facilitating the country’s continued growth.
Reasons for Sustainability in Philippine Airport Development
Given the necessity of airport development, a focus on sustainability can help ensure that these airports can continue to facilitate growth while minimizing the effects of these vital infrastructure assets on the environment. Below are some of the more important reasons why sustainable airport operations and maintenance are important for the Philippines:
1) Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Given all this, sustainable airport development projects should prioritize a reduction in the use of carbon-emitting energy sources by increasing the use of renewable energy sources as well as transitioning to cleaner fuels and technologies that limit the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. The Mactan-Cebu International Airport, managed by a consortium composed of Aboitiz InfraCapital, GMR Group, and Megawide Construction Corporation, already uses 6,300 photovoltaic modules that produce a monthly average of 196,800 kWh of energy in its Terminal 1.
Additionally, airports can consider the wider use of electric vehicles as well as energy-efficient building designs. By taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from as many sources as possible, airports can mitigate the impacts of climate change and reduce the Philippines’ long-term vulnerability to serious climate events.
According to the World Economic Forum, greenhouse gas emissions from aviation activities account for approximately 2.5% of global emissions. The real figure may be much higher when accounting for ground-based transportation and support activities that make airport operations possible.
2) Protecting the Environment
The Philippines is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world and is home to several unique ecosystems, including numerous coral reefs, rainforests, and wetlands. Unfortunately, infrastructure development in the Philippines has historically ignored or sidelined the need to protect the environment in favor of immediate economic development. But with the threat of climate change, the destruction of local livelihoods, and the growing ecotourism industry, it’s clear that it’s wiser to develop infrastructure with the environment fully in mind.
Airport operations and maintenance projects should take steps to protect local ecosystems and prevent the loss of important biodiversity. Development stakeholders must ensure that any airport construction or redevelopment project has a minimal impact on the environment and, if possible, enhances the ecosystem surrounding it. This helps create a win-win scenario where all local industries can continue to flourish, including those that are reliant on natural resources such as sustainable fishing and ecotourism.
3) Promoting Sustainable Tourism
The Philippines has historically had an economy that relies on resource extraction, with agriculture and mining being key parts of the local economy. However, since the late 20th century, a larger portion of the country’s economic value has been generated by services and manufacturing. In particular, the country’s tourism industry has seen remarkable growth, fueled by an expanding domestic middle class as well as elevated international recognition. However, resource extraction continues to be a major source of income for many Philippine communities.
Ecotourism and other forms of sustainable tourism are particularly compelling as they can further minimize the negative impacts of continued resource extraction on local ecosystems and communities. Sustainable tourism not only disincentivizes extractive practices, but it also incentivizes local businesses and communities to further protect their surrounding environment. Thus, by promoting sustainable tourism, local communities can better support sustainable economic growth without destroying the environment that helps sustain them.
4) Reducing Operational Costs
Sustainable airport development doesn’t just make sense from an environmental standpoint but it also makes sense economically. Implementing energy-efficient building designs and using renewable energy sources brings down the cost of operating airports while also preventing harm to the environment. In turn, a cleaner, more biodiverse environment will mean higher tourist volumes over time, which may result in more vibrant local economies. In the long term, this reduced operational cost and improved local economic vitality can make air travel more accessible to more people, creating even more economic opportunities down the line.
Sustainable Airports Will Play a Key Role in the Philippines’ Future
In simple terms, the Philippines cannot afford to neglect airport development, especially at this stage of its economic ascendance. Fortunately, the Philippines can look to past experiences and developments in other aviation markets to ensure that airports not only help drive local economies but do so in a way that benefits local communities in the long term.
From both an economic and environmental standpoint, sustainable airport operations and maintenance services are critical for the long-term welfare of the Philippines. In broader terms, developing sustainable transport infrastructure is especially important for the Philippines given its fragmented geography and its high vulnerability to climate change. By prioritizing sustainability in airport development projects, Filipinos can take a small but important step towards creating a more environmentally responsible and economically sustainable future.