Old Nielson Field Terminal Tower.
The original airport that served Manila, Grace Park Airfield, also known as Manila North, was opened in 1935 in Grace Park, Caloocan. It was the city's first commercial airport, and was used by Philippine Aerial Taxi Company (later Philippine Airlines) for its first domestic routes. In July 1937, Manila International Air Terminal located in the 45-hectare (4,800,000 sq ft) Nielson Airport was inaugurated and had served as the gateway to Manila. Its runways of which now form Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas in Makati. In 1948, following Philippine independence, the airport was moved to its current site adjacent to the Villamor Airbase, which was then called Nichols Field due to the reasons of less terrain slope, expansive land area in the new site, and the USAF base runway (Runway 13/31) which can be used for the airport. The original structure was built on what is now the site of Terminal 2.
In 1954 the airport's international runway and associated taxiway were built, and in 1956, construction was started on a control tower and a terminal building for international passengers. The new terminal was inaugurated on September 22, 1961. On January 22, 1972, a fire caused substantial damage to the original terminal building, which also resulted in six casualties, and a slightly smaller terminal was rebuilt in its place the following year. This second terminal would served as the country's international terminal until 1981 when it was converted to a domestic airport upon the completion and opening of a new, higher-capacity terminal, known today as Terminal 1. The old international terminal was later damaged by another fire in May 1985.
One year after its opening, the present-day Terminal 1 became a scene of a controversial event in Philippine history on August 21, 1983. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. was assassinated at the terminal's Gate 8 (now Gate 11) after returning to the Philippines from his self-imposed exile in the United States. Ironically, his flight number, China Airlines 811, was the same flight number that was involved in an accident three years ago at the same airport, albeit that the aircraft involved in the 1983 assassination was a Boeing 767-200. Four years after the incident he was memorialized by having the airport named in his honor, by virtue of Republic Act No. 6639.
Plans for a new terminal were conceived in 1989, when the Department of Transportation and Communications commissioned Aéroports de Paris to do a feasibility study to expand capacity. The recommendation was to build two new terminals, and in 1998 Terminal 2 was completed. Terminal 2 was nicknamed the Centennial Terminal as its completion coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Philippine Declaration of Independence from Spain. In 1997 the government approved the construction of Terminal 3, which was originally scheduled to be completed in 2002. After many delays caused by technical and legal issues, the terminal became partially operational in mid-2008 and fully operational in August 2014. The government aims to return services from many of the airlines which cancelled services to Manila as a result of Terminal 1's problems.
Departure hall of NAIA Terminal 3
The original proposal for the construction of a third terminal was proposed by Asia's Emerging Dragon Corporation (AEDP). AEDP eventually lost the bid to PairCargo and its partner Fraport AG of Germany, who went on to begin construction of the terminal under the administration of Joseph Estrada. In August 1997, President Fidel V. Ramos led the groundbreaking ceremony of Terminal 3. The structure was mostly completed several years ago and was originally scheduled to open in 2002. The ultra-modern US$640 million, 189,000-square-metre (2,030,000 sq ft) facility was designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) to have a capacity of 13 million passengers per year. However, a legal dispute between the government of the Philippines and the project's main contractor, Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (Piatco), over the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) contract, delayed the final completion and opening of the terminal.
While the original agreement was one in which PairCargo and Fraport AG would operate the airport for several years after its construction, followed by a handing over of the terminal to the Philippine government, the government offered to buy out Fraport AG for $400 million, to which Fraport agreed. However, before the terminal could be fully completed, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, called the contract "onerous" and therefore formed a committee to evaluate the agreement to buy out Fraport AG. It is this action that sparked the most controversy. The Philippine Supreme Court eventually found the Piatco contract "null and void" citing a variety of anomalies.
The administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo eventually abrogated Piatco's BOT Contract for allegedly having been anomalous in certain important respects. In a subsequent decision, the Philippine Supreme Court upheld the Philippine Government's position on the matter and declared the BOT contract "null and void" for, among other things, violations of certain provisions of the BOT law. More specifically, the Court found that the original contract was revised to allow for a Philippine government guarantee of Piatco's obligations to its creditors, contractors and suppliers. The BOT law disallows the granting of such sovereign guarantees. Piatco disagrees and continues to maintain that the provisions cited by the Supreme Court do not amount to a prohibited sovereign guarantee by the Philippine Government.
A shot of the airport taken from a departing aircraft
In December 2004, the Philippine government expropriated the terminal project from Piatco through an order of the Pasay City Regional Trial Court. However, the court only allowed the Philippine government to take over the terminal upon payment of an initial amount of ₱3 billion (approximately US$64 million) to Piatco. The Philippine government paid Piatco this amount during the second week of September 2006. According to the Philippine government, NAIA-3 was 98% complete (prior in 2006) and required at least an additional US$6 million to complete. The government was then in the process of negotiating a contract with the builder of the terminal, Takenaka Corporation, because another factor that delayed the terminal's opening was the ongoing investigation into the collapse of an 100-square-metre (1,100 sq ft) area of the terminal's ceiling.
Piatco (and its German partner, Fraport) have instituted arbitration proceedings before different international bodies to recover a fair settlement. Piatco sued the government before the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Singapore. Fraport separately sued the Philippine government at the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in Washington. In 2007, the ICSID case was decided in favor of the Philippine government because of a violation of Philippine law by Fraport. However, this decision was annulled in 2010 due to a violation of Fraport's right to be heard. A new proceeding before the ICSID is ongoing. Piatco formally withdrew its second application to set aside the earlier ICC ruling that dismissed its claims against the Philippine government in December 2011. The ICC ruling in favor of the Philippine government became final and executory in 2012.
Through Executive Order No. 732, the NAIA Terminal 3 Task Force was made and Michael Defensor was appointed on June 19, 2008 as head, creating the Presidential Task Force on NAIA-3 that was "mandated to ensure the immediate opening and operation of Terminal 3." The order provides for the NAIA-3 opening based on decisions of the Supreme Court and applicable laws.
Terminal 3 began partial operations at 05:15am on July 22, 2008 with 16 inbound and outbound domestic flights from Cebu Pacific. Philippine Airlines' subsidiary PAL Express (then known as Air Philippines and AirPhil Express) moved their operations to this terminal two days later. Cebu Pacific moved all of its domestic and international operations to the terminal on August 1, 2008.
On August 1, 2010, Then President Benigno Aquino III announced plans to utilize Terminal 3 to its maximum capacity by the Christmas season, which may mean moving international carriers to Terminal 3, but the goal was never reached.
The Philippine government has made a new plan where Terminal 3 would be fully operational by the end of 2011, but lowered their goal to 55% operational after further study. The move of international carriers began in February 2011 with All Nippon Airways (ANA) starting a new service to Manila from Terminal 3, rather than Terminal 1 with other international carriers. On July 31, 2014, Terminal 3 became fully operational. ANA was the only foreign carrier at Terminal 3 until October 1, 2014, when nine international airlines, namely Delta Air Lines, KLM, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, and Cathay Pacific, Qantas, United Airlines, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines, transferred operations from Terminal 1.
In October 2015, reports of an extortion scam concerning bullets planted by airport security officials in airline passengers' luggages (dubbed in the local media as the "laglag-bala scam") spread, creating a scare among travelers. former Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte, then a presumptive presidential candidate in the 2016 Philippine presidential election, further alleged that a syndicate is behind the series of incidents. Duterte said the operation had been going on for more than two years. The Malacañang Palace and the Philippine Senate has since conducted an investigation on the incidents. Jose Angel Aquino Honrado, the chairman of MIAA, which manages the airport, is President Benigno Aquino III's first cousin. In April 2016, yet another laglag-bala incident occurred.
On February 12, 2018, a consortium of seven conglomerates consisting of Aboitiz InfraCapital Incorporated, AC Infrastructure Holdings Corporation, Alliance Global Group Incorporated, Asia's Emerging Dragon Corporation, Filinvest Development Corporation, JG Summit Holdings, and Metro Pacific Investments Corporation, submitted a ₱350 billion, or US$6.75 billion, 35-year unsolicited proposal to rehabilitate, expand, operate, and maintain the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The consortium's airport rehabilitation and expansion proposal will be divided into two phases which are the improvement and expansion of terminals in the current NAIA land area, and the development of an additional runway, taxiways, passenger terminals, and associated support infrastructure. Changi Airport Consultants Pte. Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Changi Airports International Pte. Ltd., will provide technical support in relation to their unsolicited proposal. Singapore's Changi Airport Group is also eyeing a 30-percent stake in this venture. DOTr is expected to finish its evaluation of the proposal by April 2017.
On February 28, 2018, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez from the House of Representatives on Wednesday announced the extension from forty-five days to six months of the deadline for airlines to transfer some of their flights to Clark International Airport to decongest the airport.
On March 1, 2018, Megawide Construction Corporation and its India-based consortium partner GMR Infrastructure, the consortium which revamped the Mactan–Cebu International Airport, have submitted a ₱150 billion, or US$3 billion, proposal to decongest and redevelop the airport as well. GMR-Megawide, unlike the aforementioned consortium, is not pushing for the construction of a new runway. According to GMR Megawide Mactan-Cebu International Airport Corp. chief executive adviser Andrew Harrison, such a structure would not significantly boost capacity.
On March 3, 2018, the Manila International Airport Authority announced the termination of MIASCOR's extended lease and concession contract on April 21, 2018, to be taken over by five ground-handling service providers.