CAAP doubts airport rehab

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Sunday, March 23, 2014


THE Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) reiterated that it is not ready to pour in funds for the rehabilitation of the Loakan airport which will cost government more than P443 million.

CAAP Director General William Hotchkiss said while they support moves of city and regional officials to rehabilitate the facility, local officials are advised to first convince airlines to offer commercial flights to Baguio and secure slots at the already congested Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

CAAP officials told the City Government it must start looking into slots for flights at the Clark International Airport or Sangley Point in Cavite, where a new airport is being eyed to decongest NAIA.

Hotchkiss, during a meeting March 12, as reflected in minutes of the meeting obtained by Sun.Star Baguio, requested city officials to help CAAP address airport intrusions, a major concern of airlines operating at the Baguio airport.

Among issues raised on the Loakan Airport include people and vehicles using the airport as access road to their homes, schools, church and barangay hall among. This is apart from the presence of stray animals and pedestrians on the runway.

In the proposed rehabilitation of the airport, an access road west of Runway 09 will cost some P26.7 million to be implemented from 2015 to 2016. The perimeter fence will cost some P30.7 million.

The rehabilitation project also entails upgrading the airport from Visual Flight Rules to Instrument Flight Rules which will involve an aeronautical survey to be conducted by CAAP and the installation of an Airfield Lighting System which will cost P50 million. Lastly, the proposed airport rehabilitation will also involve the construction of a new passenger terminal building to cost some P336 million.

CAAP issues and concerns

But Hotchkiss, Deputy Director General John Andrews and CAAP Assistant Director General Capt. Beda Badiola stressed while air transport is important in Baguio, as pilots, the airport is dangerous citing statistics of several aircraft accidents and lives lost involving the Loakan airport.

The CAAP officials explained the airport is located in a mountainous area coupled with presence of clouds and poor visibility. “No amount of navigational aid, communication equipment and present technological things will negate the unsafe conditions posed by the Baguio environment,” they stressed.

The CAAP officials also stressed a precise aircraft maneuver and good weather and runway condition are needed for a successful landing and take-off.

This as they said the completion of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac expressway and the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union expressway which will significantly cut travel time to the city will make it harder travelers to take the plane to Baguio.

But most importantly, the CAAP officials stressed there is no need to spend a lot of funds on infrastructure saying the present airport remains open to the aircrafts in general aviation and military flights and what is important is to prevent intrusions in the airport to convince airlines to cater Baguio flights.

Privatization eyed?

However, CAAP officials revealed the government is open to a Public-Private Partnerships through a Build-Operate-Transfer scheme for the airport.

Several airports in the country requiring huge funds for rehabilitation and upgrading have been successfully privatized including the Caticlan’s Godofredo Ramos Airport catering to flights in Boracay while other airports of international standards have also been converted into authorities and ran by government corporations.

CAAP said a private investor could well maintain the airport ensuring protocols are observed to prevent airport intrusions as well as convince airlines to cater Baguio flights.

Not giving up

On the other hand, Mayor Mauricio Domogan stressed they are not giving up on the city’s lone airport adding the local government will continue to convince CAAP and the various airline companies to operate commercially here.

Describing CAAP’s latest pronouncement as “unfortunate” the city mayor said the Loakan airport had operated as a commercial airfield for a long time and no notable accidents occurred in the airstrip despite the perceived dangers.

“Not a single accident happened in that airport in all the years that it operated. I recall that there was one accident where a plane crashed in Itogon but that was due to pilot error and not because of the airport’s facilities,” Domogan said.

“We will not give up. We will continue to convince CAAP on the advantages of reviving our airport for commercial purpose the same way that we will continue to convince commercial airlines to establish franchise line for Baguio-Manila. We cannot just give up on that,” he added.

Meantime, a source at the CAAP showed the city’s airport is now being eyed by a private airport developer. (With reports from Aileen Refuerzo)

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on March 24, 2014.

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