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Still a long way to go for international flights in Laguindingan

Bodiongan, Chan and PabayoBy Mike Banos

Even if a new navigation system proves successful in enabling airliners to land and take off in adverse weather, it’s still a long way to go before international flights service what local residents have long been calling the Laguindingan “international airport.”

During the general assembly of the Cagayan de Oro City Tourism Council (CTC) held Tuesday, March 11 at the Executive House in the City Hall Complex, the region’s top tourism and airport officials said it’s not merely a question of being able to service international aircraft that needs to be addressed.

“We have to expand our passenger and cargo terminals whose design capacities were already exceeded at its opening June last year,” said Jose P. Bodiongan, Area IX manager for the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) who manages the Laguindingan airport.

Since it was designed 12 years ago, Mr. Bodiongan said the airport had already surpassed its design capacity of 1.6 million passengers with an air traffic volume of 1.622 million passengers recorded at the Cagayan de Oro (Lumbia airport) in 2012 which it was designed to replace.

CAAP records show air passenger traffic for July-Dec. 2013 at the new facility added to the Jan.-June, 2013 volume of the Lumbia Airport breached 1.89 million passengers, or over three times the 606,216 recorded at Lumbia in 2006, a mere seven years ago.

Despite Laguindingan Airport operating only during daytime under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), air passenger traffic at the two facilities still grew by 268,000 in 2013, the largest increase registered during the CAAP’s operations at Lumbia which had consistently attained double digit growth in passenger volume every year from 2006-2013.

When the Korean contractor Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction Co., Ltd. officially turns over Laguindingan Airport to the CAAP on June 30, 2014 (except for the air navigation and support facilities), it would enable the agency to undertake interim renovations and expansions to address congestion at its passenger terminal.

“Besides prioritizing the expansion of the passenger and cargo terminals and related facilities, we would still have to provide for additional space for Customs, Immigration, Quarantine and Security (CIQS) facilities if we wish to host international flights,” Mr. Bodiongan added.

The original Terms of Reference for the Operations & Maintenance Public-Private Partnership (O&M PPP) Development Plan of the airport merely covered its operations and maintenance. But it was later recommended for upgrading by the Regional Development Council for Region X (RDC-X) to include additional facilities and capacity of the airport to be carried out in three (3) phases.

Phase 1 specifies the expansion of the passenger terminal building to 14,490 sq.m. from the present 7,184 sq.m., expansion of the cargo terminal building to 8,652 sq.m. from the present 350 sq.m. and expansion of the parking lot from 10,300 to 24,600 sq.m. The privatization plan is now awaiting the NEDA Board’s approval before it is bidded out to the private sector later this year.

Catalino Chan III, Department of Tourism (DOT) Region X Director, said the DOT is eyeing a Busan, South Korea-Singapore-Cagayan de Oro (via Laguindingan) route since statistics show Cagayan de Oro has one of the highest number of resident Koreans in the Philippines.

“However, we are conducting further studies to see if the projected passenger volume from Busan would be sufficient to justify a direct link to Cagayan de Oro without dropping by Singapore which has one of the highest number of resident Filipinos that can further bolster passenger traffic along this route,” he added.

Mr. Chan said the projected passenger traffic along the proposed route should also be able to sustain at least twice weekly flights to allow Koreans a return flight within the week.

Korea was the Philippines leading visitor market in 2013, followed by the United States
Japan, China and Taiwan. The DOT has set a “fighting target” of 10 million foreign tourist arrivals by 2016.

By regional grouping, East Asia continues to contribute the biggest share with the ASEAN region the third largest contributor of the overall traffic base.

Koreans ranked fifth in per capita spending among the Philippines’ top markets with US$874.59 in 2012, trailing Canada, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom.