Finally after 22 years, Laguindingan Airport starts commercial operation on June 15

LAGUINDINGAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/12 June)- After 22 years in the making, the P7.8 billion Laguindingan Airport will finally be open for business on Saturday, June 15.

Aboard a chartered Gulfstream aircraft, President Benigno Aquino III and his entourage landed Tuesday at the airport for its inaugural flight, “ending the debate” on its safety and paving the way for the start of commercial operations.

“This will be the gateway to Northern Mindanao and is one of our finest airports,” Aquino told the guests and public officials who gathered at the airport to watch the inaugural flight.

Aquino later led officials in inspecting the facilities of the 7, 184-square meter airport terminal building, which is expected to cater to 1.6 million passengers a year.

“Ito ang magpalago sa turismo dito sa Northern Mindanao (This will be a boon to tourism in Northern Mindanao),” Aquino said.

The President brushed aside the safety issues raised by the Cagayan de Oro Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Orochamber), which opposed the airport’s opening due to lack of modern navigational equipment like the Instrument Landing System (ILS).

“Laguindingan, even without the navigational aids, is safer than Lumbia airport,” Aquino said.

Aquino noted that the old Lumbia airport is located near the mountains south of Cagayan de Oro while Laguindingan sits on a flat terrain near the seashore, an ideal location for airports.

The issue on safety has dogged the opening of the airport ever since Aquino ordered its opening on April 15, which was eventually changed to June 15.

“It is now the responsibility of the government. They are opening the airport, they must face the consequence if something happens,” Orochamber president Efren Uy said.

Uy said the business sector was concerned on the safety of the passengers upon learning that Laguindingan Airport will be opened without navigational aids that would help airplanes land safely.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has promised that the ILS; VHF Omnidirectional Range Navigation (VOR); Meteorological Observing System (MOS); Precision Approach Lighting system (PALS); and Precision Approach Path Indicators (PAPI) will be installed by May 2014.

“We hope the government will hasten the installation for the sake of the safety [of passengers],” Uy said.

Uy said that due to lack of navigational devices, planes would be allowed to use the airport only from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily for safety reasons.

He said this will limit the arrival and departure of airplanes from the present 28 flights a day in Lumbia airport to only 14 flights a day at Laguindingan.

“The reduction of daily flights will result to tremendous losses on the business sector,“ Uy said.

He estimated that losses in marine and cut-flower products alone will reach P250 million by the time the operations of the airport will be fully normalized next year upon the installation of the navigational devices.

Aside from marine and cut-flower products, Uy said the flight reduction will have serious effects on the white water rafting adventure along Cagayan de Oro River, a major tourism attraction in Cagayan de Oro City.

“We are hoping the operations will be fully normalized as soon as possible so the effects will be minimized,” Uy said.

The Orochamber has pushed for the postponement of the opening of Laguindingan Airport until next year after all the navigational equipment shall be installed.

But the pleas from the business chamber were not heeded by the Aquino administration, which wants to de-clog air traffic at the Manila airport.

Among the plans to de-clog the Manila airport was to transfer the civilian cargo operations to Sangley military airbase in Cavite where the Philippine Air Force 15th Strike Wing is based.

The Philippine Air Force 15th Strike Wing, which has 30 to 40 combat planes, will in turn transfer its operations to Lumbia airport.

Mohammad Naga Rascal, CAAP Northern Mindanao director, said PAF personnel will immediately close the perimeter gates of Lumbia airport to protect its facilities right after commercial passenger operations will cease at 10 p.m. on June 14.

Paul Nigel Villarete, Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority manager, allayed the fears of local traders and the public that the lack of navigational aids will affect the safety of plane landings and takeoffs.

“Mactan-Cebu airport, which is the second busiest airport [in the country], do not have an Instrument Landing System (ILS) since 2010. Yet we are open 24 hours a day without an ILS,” Villarete said.

He said Mactan-Cebu airport, which caters 240 flights a day, got only its ILS just a month ago.

“An ILS is a very important navigational aid but it does not mean that we do not open an airport because it lacks such system. Many airports in the world are operating without an ILS,” Villarete said.

Villarete said that Laguindingan’s single runway of 2,100 meters x 45 meters can accommodate up to four plane landings and take-offs in an hour.

He said the runway is capable of accommodating Airbus 300 to 320, the common passenger aircrafts of Philippine airline companies.

“These companies will surely deploy more aircrafts here if they see there is a demand. No company will miss that kind of opportunity. Business will dictate the frequency of the aircrafts,” Villarete said.

The planning of Laguindingan Airport was started in 1991 by the Louis Berger Group, which conducted the study entitled “Cagayan-Iligan Corridor Airport Feasibility Study and Master Plan.”

The South Korean Export and Import Bank provided most of the P7.8 billion loan to construct the airport. A budget of US13.36 million (around P570 million at current exchange rate) was provided for navigational equipment. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)