Caticlan Airport to reopen in September 2009

The Department of Tourism or DOT said a portion of the bordering hill at the Caticlan airport will be tapered first, to remove the obstacle near the runway and accelerate the reopening of the airport to larger aircraft by September 2009.

Under the initial phase of runway rehabilitation, the project involves contouring of the bordering hill, as an alternative to flattening out the mound which will take four to five months, according to Tourism Secretary Ace Durano.

Contouring the bordering hill will remove the obstacle that prevents the full use of 950-meter runway and ensure that the Caticlan airport reopens in September.  Pilots had to make difficult flight maneuver for steep ascent to avoid getting close to the hill, he said.

Atty Ma. Victoria Jasmin, director of the Office of Tourism Standards, said the interim plan is to “contour the hill to enable the aircrafts to take off and land at a safer angle.”

While Secretary Durano said this initial phase does not involve extending the runway, which is long enough to accommodate the planes of Cebu Pacific, PAL Express, Zest Airways and Southeast Asian Airlines, this would address the concerns by airport regulators.
“The runway is long enough for the type of aircrafts used by the carriers servicing Caticlan.  The hill, however, is an obstacle to the maximum use of the runway.  It is for this reason that the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines board decided to taper the hill.  The moment the hill is tapered as planned, services to Caticlan will normalize,” he said.
Mr. Ruben Ciron, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines or CAAP, earlier said there was a plan to flatten the hill, which would take four to five months.
However, the CAAP and the private contractor were careful in the wording of the removal of the hill, for fear that this may offend environmental groups, according to sources.

The Department of Transportation and Communication or DOTC ordered private contractor Caticlan International Airport Development Corp. to contour the hill first, according to Durano, who is a board member of the CAAP.

Secretary  Durano is also in charge of airport development in the tourism super region of Central Philippines.

Caticlan International Airport Development Corp. or CIADC, which is led by businessman Mr. George Yang of MacDonald’s, was granted a 25-year contract to rehabilitate and operate the airport.

Recent flight incidents in Caticlan prompted the CAAP to prohibit larger aircrafts of Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Zest Airways from using Boracay’s closest gateway.  

At present, the airport is limited to one way landing or take-off for smaller planes.

“With the wind factor and the hill obstructing the airstrip, pilots perform an abrupt maneuver to a steep degree of ascent for larger planes.  Passenger safety is our priority in rehabilitating the runway,” Secretary Durano said.

“The CAAP, concerned government agencies and private sector are consolidating all efforts to complete the runway upgrade.  We have been assured that it will be fully operational in September, the start of Boracay’s peak season,” the tourism chief added.
Secretary Durano further said that though arrivals in Boracay were largely unaffected by the new stipulation, with flights diverted to Kalibo, and Caticlan airport left open to smaller planes of Southeast Asian Airways, the runway reopening is vital to the long-term infrastructure development of the airport.

Concerns of rerouted airline companies have also mounted, according to Undersecretary Eduardo Jarque, Jr. “Redirected flights to Kalibo involve land transfer costs which are shouldered by the airlines.  Likewise, tourists looking to spend a longer time in Boracay end up consuming two hours more on their travel by bus,” Jarque said.

Mr. Ciron said large planes were disallowed to land at Caticlan airport, upon the recommendation of International Civil Aviation Organization.  Only the 19-passenger L410 UVP-E aircraft of Southeast Asian Airlines were left flying to Caticlan.

The Caticlan rehabilitation project involves the upgrading of the existing Caticlan airport to accommodate the increasing passenger traffic bound for Boracay Island.  

It will extend the Caticlan runway from 950 meters to 2,100 meters by reclaiming a part of the Sibuyan Sea and flattening the hill near the airport.

It seeks to increase the capacity of the airport passengers terminal to accommodate 1.5 million passengers a year and accept regional flights and larger aircrafts and improve quality of service and passenger safety and security in the area.

A source in the CAAP said the construction phase of the contract would take as long as two years.

Cebu Pacific president Lance Gokongwei, however, said he looks forward to the expansion of the Caticlan airport to benefit the tourism industry.

From Manila Standard Today

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