Tuna industry players pushing for P959M GenSan airport expansion

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 9 Sept) – Tuna industry players here are pushing for the inclusion of the proposed P959-million expansion of the city airport here in the 2015 budget of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC).

In a resolution, the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries Inc. (SFFAII) specifically sought for the support and approval of the Department of Budget and Management and the House of Representatives for such appropriation, which will fund the construction of a new passenger terminal building and other facilities of the city airport.

It said the city airport needs major renovation and expansion to facilitate its development as a major transport hub in Mindanao and alternate southern gateway in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region as well as export market destinations.

Joaquin Lu, SFFAII president, said local stakeholders initially requested the DOTC in 2011 to come up with a development master plan for the airport to improve its efficiency and services as well as optimize its utilization.

He said the agency responded in 2012 by funding a study on the development of the General Santos City Aerotropolis, which it described as “a new type of urban development with aviation-intensive businesses and related enterprises, and is expected to offer speedy connectivity to passengers.”

The study, which was undertaken in 2013 by the Engineering Development Corporation of the Philippines, was served as the main reference in terms of the improvement and upgrading of the city airport, he said.

Lu said it specifically outlined various development plans and options for the improvement of the airport’s facilities in the next 20 years.

Among the major initiatives included in the plan are the construction of a new 6,000 square-meter passenger terminal building, expansion of apron space and other site developments in anticipation of the projected increase of its annual passenger traffic demand to 1.6 million by the year 2020, he said.

“The improvement and expansion of the General Santos City airport facilities is essential to accommodate and serve the increasing passenger and cargo volume, which includes highly perishable goods (like tuna),” Lu said.

The SFFAII, which comprise seven associations with around 120 active member-companies, is among the major clientele of the city airport, transporting fresh tuna, tuna by-products and high valued commodities to local and international export markets.

This city, which is dubbed the “Tuna Capital of the Philippines,” is home to six of the country’s seven tuna canneries and other related ventures that generate average annual export receipts of nearly US$300 million.

The General Santos City International Airport, which is classified by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) as an alternate international airport, mainly serves the air transport requirements of a greater part of Region 12.

The Regional Development Council (RDC) of Region 12 noted in its development plan the need for the immediate upgrading and improvement of the city airport.

“Despite being categorized as an international airport, the General Santos Airport still lacks facilities to make it at par with international standards,” it said.

The council specifically cited that passengers presently have to deal with a lot of inconvenience in boarding and disembarking from the airplane and walk some length under the heat of the sun.

It said that even the trolleys, which are supposed to be a necessity for moving luggage, are used by the passengers for a fee.

“The airport needs a jet bridge, an enclosed, movable connector which extends from the airport terminal gate to the airplane that will allow passengers to board and disembark without having to go outside,” the RDC-12 said.

“Trolleys and other airport facilities should be made available for free considering that passengers already pay terminal fees,” the council added.