The Philippine government said Tuesday it was aiming to boost passenger capacity at its congested Manila airport next year with the long-awaited completion of a controversial terminal.
Upgrading Ninoy Aquino International Airport's Terminal 3 will allow it to handle its maximum design capacity of 13 million passengers a year, four years after its opening, the government said.
The terminal needs a new baggage handling system, a flight information display and 21 other systems identified in a safety audit, Assistant Transportation Secretary Joel Lacsamana said.
"This would allow us to operate the terminal at 100 percent capacity by the end of the year. Right now we are stuck at 48 percent," he told AFP.
The government is expecting to get Japanese firm Takenaka, which was originally hired to build the terminal but never completed it because of a complicated legal dispute, to finish the project, according to Lacsamana.
Manila airport's three terminals have a nominal maximum capacity of 28 million passengers.
But they in fact already handled 27.38 million passengers last year even without Terminal 3 running at full capacity, according to the airport's official data.
Last month the government also began upgrading its much-maligned Terminal 1, the oldest of the three which was built in 1981.
Lacsamana said completion of Terminal 3 would allow the airport to reduce capacity at Terminal 1 and speed up the construction work there.
Then-president Joseph Estrada awarded the Terminal 3 project to a consortium involving Germany's Fraport AG in 1997.
Takenaka, the main sub-contractor, began work in 2000.
But Gloria Arroyo, who succeeded graft-tainted Estrada as president after he was ousted in a popular uprising, cancelled the contract and forced the consortium to sell the project back to the government in 2004.
Arroyo's government justified its decision by saying there had been many breaches of contract, including the use of substandard materials and failure to conform to safety standards.
It unleashed a raft of lawsuits, including one from Takenaka which was forced out of the operation. The government eventually opened the terminal in 2008, but not to the standard as originally planned.
A number of the suits against the government, including Takenaka's one, remain unresolved although the Japanese company is now open to a settlement that would pave the way for it to do the upgrade, Lacsamana said.
Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas said he planned to fly to Japan next week in an effort to strike a deal.