5 airports set for upgrade under pocket open skies

By Recto Mercene, Business Mirror

Posted at Jan 21 2011 07:08 AM | Updated as of Jan 22 2011 06:32 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap) said on Jan. 20 that it will immediately upgrade and modernize 5 alternate international airports in line with the administration’s call for “pocket open-skies” policy to attract more tourists.

These are the

  • Laoag International Airport
  • Diosdado Macapagal International Airport
  • Davao
  • Cebu-Mactan
  • Subic

“The 5 airports have existing frontline facilities related to Customs, Immigration and Quarantine,” said Caap Director General Ramon Gutierrez.

He made the statement shortly after the aviation summit at Villamor Air Base on Jan 19, where he added that Philippine Airlines, Airphil Express, Cebu Pacific, Zest and SeaAir have appealed to him to speed up the modernization of some provincial airports because they have expanded their flights.

Between 2012 and 2014, Cebu Pacific will take an additional 16 Airbus A320 aircraft. Other airlines are also growing and beefing up their fleet. Air Philippines, Zest and Seair have publicly announced that they are expanding their narrow-body fleets.

If everyone takes delivery of the aircraft they have announced, there will be 67 narrow-body jets plying the Philippine skies by the end of 2011, a jump up from 56 at the end of 2009 and a mere 47 in 2008.

Cebu Pacific vice president for commercial planning Alex Reyes was quoted as saying that soon, gridlock in airport provincial ramps and airways would be common if the government does not act quickly.

In reply to the airlines’ requests, Gutierrez said that with the help of the Department of Transportation and Communications, some provincial airports would also undergo improvements in their passenger terminals,
landscaping of surrounding areas, face- lifting at the passenger lounges, new toilets and air-conditioning facilities.

He said ramp areas in some provincial airports would be expanded to accommodate more airplanes by acquiring adjacent properties, which would be converted also for vehicular parking and recreational areas.

Gutierrez said Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos is one of the more aggressive local government officials who approached the Caap the other day, asking them to immediately start the modernization of the Laoag International Airport passenger terminal at a cost of P100 million.

Marcos brought with her plans for the Laoag passenger terminal, designed by Palafox Associates, a local architectural firm but also known internationally, showing a terminal reflecting the regional setting, he said.

“The governor’s idea is to have a passenger terminal that stands out from other terminals in the country, reflecting the local setting, culture and aesthetics of Ilocos Norte,” said Gutierrez, adding that Marcos is averse to the idea of boxy terminal passenger designs, common here and abroad.

Her idea runs counter to the proposals of Cebu Pacific, which advocates expanded facilities that need not be fancy.

Reyes said CEB, a low-cost carrier, wants simple terminals requiring little maintenance—warehouse-type, single-story structures such as the Budget Terminal in Singapore—that can comfortably move thousands of passengers in a day and suited for Philippine conditions.

Anyway, Gutierrez said Marcos’s proposals would be submitted to the Caap board of directors for approval.

“She is very aggressive promoting Laoag Airport, which is very laudable,” said Gutierrez, adding that the airport used to have 24 flights a day hosting mostly casino high rollers from mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong but that flights had gone down following the bloody Luneta hostage-taking.

Laoag is also promoting the airport as destinations for Hawaiian Airlines, noting that many Filipino-Americans wanting to visit or retire in Ilocos need not go through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Visa on arrival at India

Meanwhile, the Indian government has relaxed visa rules to attract more Filipino visitors as PAL launches a long-awaited service between Manila and New Delhi on March 27, 2011.

“I am happy to announce that we will extend our visa-on-arrival facility to nationals of the Philippines with effect from January 1, 2011,” said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a recent speech before the 8th India-Asean Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam.

PAL’s new service to New Delhi will operate six times weekly, with three nonstop flights between the two capitals and three flights routed via Bangkok.

Modern, wide-body Airbus A330-300 aircraft, which seat 42 in Mabuhay Class (business) and 260 in Fiesta Class (economy), will be deployed on both routes.

The Delhi inaugural will give PAL a presence in South Asia for the first time since 1994—a fitting milestone for the Philippine flag carrier, just days after it celebrates its 70th founding anniversary on March 15, as Asia’s first airline.

The addition of Delhi expands the PAL international network to 26 points in 15 countries and territories. ?The airline also flies to 20 points within the Philippines.