As main gateways to a nation, airports are where visitors get their first and final impressions of a nation. The quality of an airport’s services and facilities indicates a nation’s level of development and plays a major role in shaping visitors’ views of the nation.
In terms of the quality of its services and facilities, Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport has long been an embarrassment for Taiwanese, and the recent flooding was the last straw and provoked a public outcry. Instead of waiting for someone else to solve the problem, it is important that the government immediately takes up the heavy responsibility of reshaping the airport.
The embarrassing incident at the airport occurred in the morning of Thursday last week, when sudden torrential rain flooded the roads to the airport terminals, as well as the underground level of Terminal Two, and on top of that caused a power outage. Following the incident, there has been an outpouring of complaints from passengers at the airport. Due to the way the crisis was handled, the flooding caused more damage than it should have. The previous and current governments should share the responsibility for reviewing the problems and coming up with solutions.
Video footage from 2007 showing former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) — at the time still a presidential candidate — criticizing the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for allowing the airport to fall in global rankings has recently resurfaced.
The video, which, ironically, shows Ma saying that he is so angry at the situation of the airport that he wants to cry, serves as a stark contrast to the airport’s current situation, nine years after he made the comments.
Instead of an improved airport, the public found a politician who cannot honor his words with actions, because he cares more about his imagined place in history than making contributions.
The public does not want to see the government repeat the mistakes of its predecessors; and it is even less desirable to see a government blame its predecessor for the poor conditions of the airport four or eight years from now as the service quality at the airport continues to deteriorate.
On Tuesday, the government approved the resignation of Taoyuan International Airport Corp (TIAC) chairman Samuel Lin (林鵬良) and terminated the employment of TIAC president David Fei (費鴻鈞). The state-owned TIAC has long had many problems, ranging from internal management to coordination with other agencies. To fully solve the problems, TIAC must work with the central and local governments. Until it does, effective emergency measures are key to damage control, which was clearly missing in the recent incident.
The first reaction to an emergency situation, such as the one on Thursday — which was primarily caused by rain, but made much worse after TIAC made a series of mistakes — should be neither rage nor finger-pointing, but rather to work out a solution to reduce the passengers’ inconvenience.
However, people found the outraged Premier Lin Chuan (林全) demanding to know who was responsible for the construction of the airport, and while TIAC claimed that the Pusin River (埔心溪) was the main reason for the flooding, the Taoyuan City Government blamed the ongoing construction of an airport runway.
While everyone did what they believed to be the right thing to do in a frenzy, no one saw to restoring the power and air-conditioner operation at the airport. As a result, even though repairing the power system and air-conditioners should have been a priority, the temperature at Terminal Two was not back to comfortable levels until 5pm on Sunday last week, four days after the flooding. The delay exacerbated the damage in terms of scope and intensity, and all the while the public has been judging the government’s ability to handle the crisis.
As soon as the situation at the airport is under control, the government should probe the cause of the flooding. So far, investigation has shown that the causes include blockage in one of the airport’s draining pipelines, failure to close a floodgate in time and an insufficient number of pumps available at the airport, and all point to the conclusion that the flooding was caused by human error. There are clearly problems with the airport’s internal management. Upper management personnel structure, company structure and work culture must all be overhauled. The government should consider hiring more experienced professionals as top managers of state-owned companies, instead of using the positions as rewards. This is something President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), whose party also has a legislative majority, must work hard to reform.
The next thing the government should do is identify who should be held accountable. In the past few years, the airport has had numerous issues and lawmakers have received many complaints about the airport. This makes people wonder whether the airport authorities have accepted kickbacks from contractors, or whether the airport’s third terminal, which is under construction, will turn out to be yet another disaster.
In addition, there is the Airport Rail system to take into consideration, which has failed testing and been postponed multiple times. Essentially, the Airport Rail is just like the Taipei Dome: No one knows when the project would be completed, if ever.
All the problems point to the fundamental question of how a government can bring about prosperity, improve the standard of living and show trustworthiness when it comes to the construction of infrastructure. If a government cannot achieve that, there is no point in even talking about projects and visions.
It has only been a couple of weeks since the Tsai administration took office and the flooding at the airport is only a taste of the challenges that lie ahead — it cannot even be considered a touchstone for the government’s crisis management abilities. Nonetheless, the incident has revealed that there is still much room for improvement.
The government must familiarize itself with the right procedures for dealing with such emergencies with a sense of urgency and show that it has the conviction and ability to effectively solve problems.
Translated by Tu Yu-an
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