GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 27 March) – The Department of Tourism (DOT) is working for the opening of additional domestic and international flights to and from four major airports in Mindanao in preparation for the integration by next year of the economies of the 10 member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Arturo Boncato Jr., DOT assistant secretary for Mindanao operations, said they are currently negotiating with various domestic and international airline companies for the opening of new routes for the Davao, General Santos, Cagayan de Oro and Zamboanga airports.
He said the four airports are considered as the key entry and exit points in Mindanao for destinations in the ASEAN, especially areas within the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) sub-region.
“These airports, although currently among the busiest in Mindanao, are not yet fully utilized and could still accommodate more flights so we’re working very hard to fill that gap,” he said.
Of the four airports, Boncato said only the Francisco Bangoy or Davao City International Airport presently accommodates regular international flights.
Singaporean airline SilkAir maintains six return flights every week between Davao City and the Changi International Airport in Singapore.
The official said they are specifically pushing for the reinstatement of the flights between Davao and Manado in North Sulawesi, Indonesia; General Santos and Manado; and Zamboanga and Sandakan in Malaysia.
Wings Air, a subsidiary of Indonesia’s largest privately run airline Lion Air, reopened its flights between Davao and Manado in 2012 but was forced to later close it down due to low passenger load. The airline has served the same route back in 2008.
In November 2003, Indonesian carrier Merpati Nusantara Airlines opened weekly flights between General Santos and Manado using a Fokker 70 aircraft but it folded up several months later due to poor passenger traffic.
Zamboanga used to serve regular flights to Labuan, Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia via Philippine Airlines and Malaysian Airlines during the ’90s but were eventually cut due to financial problems.
In 2004, South Phoenix Airways opened direct flights from Zamboanga to Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu but was later cut due to poor load of passengers.
Asian Spirit reopened the Zamboanga to Sandakan route in May 2007 but was later scrapped. Indonesia’s Sriwijaya Air recently signified to reopen the Zamboanga-Sandakan.
Boncato said the agency is currently revisiting the previous arrangements and evaluating the viability of reopening these routes in terms of the tourism aspect.
“We’ve been working with the local government units for the opening of new tourism sites or attractions that could draw tourists or travelers to these areas,” he said.
The official said they have been talking with leading domestic airline Cebu Pacific to open flights in the previous international routes and in other key destinations in Mindanao.
“Cebu Pacific is expecting new planes and naturally it has to look for new destinations to connect to and we’re pushing that it would include some parts of Mindanao,” he said.
Aside from the opening of additional flights, Boncato said they are pushing for the improvement and expansion of the facilities of the four airports and those in other key cities in Mindanao.
He said such move is part of their efforts improve access and connectivity to and from various tourist destinations in the island.
“Our goal is to eventually become one of the most accessible areas in the ASEAN, especially for visitors or tourists,” he added.