Bicol International Airport to be partially operational by 2016--Palace

DARAGA, Albay -- The Php3.4-billion Bicol International Airport (BIA) here will be partially operational by 2016.

It will open an international gateway in Southern Luzon and is expected to help significantly boost the country’s economy.

Construction work on the BIA has taken a renewed momentum and after some minor hitches in its engineering designs were finally resolved recently. It is considered as one among the Aquino administration’s most tangible legacies.

Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, in a recent meeting, agreed on new targets on the project. Construction of its terminal starts in January 2015 and will be completed in 2017. The complex will partially open in May 2016.

Salceda, who chairs the Bicol Regional Development Council (RDC), said the new international airport is getting the needed government support due to Albay’s impressive performance, among others in tourism. The province is now considered the fastest-growing tourism destination in the country.

“I reiterated during our meeting that we need a new airport — bigger, with night landing and of international standards since our tourism has grown from 8,700 foreign tourists in 2007 to 339,000 in 2013,” Salceda told a press conference after last week’s RDC full council meeting.

Albay has achieved a sustained tourism growth, leaping by 47% in 2012, and again 66% in 2013 and — after a flat 1st quarter performance — with another 52% growth in the second quarter of 2014.

Driven by a strong tourism expansion, Bicol has equally emerged as the country’s fastest-growing region with an impressive 9.4% growth in 2013, which was higher than the National Capital Region, the governor noted.

Salceda said the design for the Php1.2-billion terminal is set to be finished this week and its bidding set within the month. The Php2.2-billion works on runway, taxiway, apron and perimeter fence was 39.2% complete as of August, with target completion in May 2015, which is “a very positive development,” he added.

Since the facility’s airside will already be complete by May 2015, the ability of the airport to admit international flights becomes an issue of Customs, Immigration, Quarantine and Security (CIQS), which is no longer a problem since these requirements are now in place and operating at the Albay International Gateway (AIG).

AIG is the refurbished Legazpi Domestic Airport, which now serves as a gateway for international chartered flights supporting Albay’s tourism program, with Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific chartered flights from Xiamen, China.

Salceda said AIG will soon open its doors also to tourists from Shanghai, and Taipei and Kaohsiung in Taiwan, as well as South Korea.

Smart Communications has started dismantling its tower near the AIG, to allow night flights to the airport in preparations for the 2015 Summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum. This will also make international chartered flights to Albay cheaper, aside from allowing more domestic flights, he added.

The new Bicol International Airport, Salceda said, can start operating by mid-2016 to accommodate more international and domestic flights even with its new terminal partially opened only.

A seaside landing approach has already been registered and published by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines with the International Civil Aviation Organization last May and should be operational in time for the the APEC Summit. --by Johnny C. Nunez (PNA) SCS/JCN/PJN Bicol News

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