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Sangley Airport can serve commercial turboprop flights, general aviation – DOTr exec

Sangley Airport can serve commercial turboprop flights, general aviation – DOTr exec

MANILA, Philippines — Can the Sangley Airport in the Cavite Peninsula cater to domestic flights previously operating in Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) by President Rodrigo Duterte’s year-end deadline? 

Yes, but with limitations, said Manuel Tamayo, undersecretary for aviation at the Department of Transportation (DOTr), in an interview Wednesday.

Malacañang on Tuesday issued an order that Sangley Airport, also called the Danilo Atienza Air Base, be ready to accept “general aviation or domestic flights” to decongest Naia by November 2019. 

The directive followed Duterte’s surprise visit to Naia hours after a lightning storm delayed and diverted dozens of domestic and international flights on Sunday night, affecting thousands of passengers.  

Tamayo, a former airline pilot, said they are striving to meet the deadline for the transfer of general aviation, which refers to non-commercial operations such as private jets and training aircraft. But he said the use of Sangley Airport for broader commercial flights within Duterte’s timeframe is more complex. 

Tamayo cited a string of factors, including Sangley Airport’s lack of facilities, limited road access and its close proximity to Naia, which could comprise safety for larger planes. 

He said Sangley could be ready for commercial flights – or those operated by carriers such as Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific – but only for turboprop aircraft, which are used for local inter-island hops. 

These include the roughly 80-seater Bombardier Q400s of Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific’s ATR 72-500s and 72-600s. 

Tamayo said Sangley has a 2,300-meter runway, which extension was finished earlier this year. 

He added that they are now completing the ramp area, hangars, and a passenger terminal, which he described as a “basic” facility similar to Palawan’s San Vicente Airport, which can accommodate around 100 passengers at a given time. 

“The terminal is a short-term solution to alleviate the problems of Naia,” Tamayo said. 

DOTr is also improving drainage and installing a new water pump given the tendency of flooding in Sangley Airport’s runway. 

Flooding has earned Sangley Airport the nickname “plastic city” due to garbage from Manila Bay that flows in and gets lodged in the mangrove trees near the runway.

Moving general aviation out of Naia will allow more commercial flights since these smaller aircraft compete with larger-capacity planes for runway time during certain hours of the day. Congestion in Naia will further ease if some commercial flights are transferred. 

But sought for comment, commercial carriers were mum on whether they would launch turboprop flights from Sangley Airport. 

Tamayo clarified DOTr’s activities at Sangley were distinct from other proposals on the table, chiefly the Cavite government’s almost $10 billion offer to reclaim land and transform Sangley Airport into a new international air gateway with multiple parallel runways. 

DOTr separately said in a statement on Wednesday it is accelerating improvements in Sangley Airport, including hiring new workers and implementing extended working hours. 

 “Whatever it takes, we need to make sure that the directive of the President is delivered,” Transportation secretary Arthur Tugade said. 

Sangley Airport remains a strategic location and has been identified by the Japan International Cooperation Agency as a viable alternative to Naia. 

This was determined during the term of President Benigno S. Aquino III, whose administration successfully negotiated the transfer of the Philippine Air Force out of Sangley Airport, which was used by the United States Navy before it was turned over to the Philippine government in the 1970s. 

The plan to transfer Naia’s general aviation flights to Sangley Airport was also launched during Aquino’s term. However, the initiative was never fully implemented. 

“We initiated discussions for this with the Air Force sometime in 2014 to 2015 but ran out of time to meet the prerequisites of providing new facilities for the Air Force and upgrading Sangley’s infrastructure,” Michael Sagcal, former spokesman of the Department of Transportation and Communications under the Aquino administration, said Wednesday. 

Sagcal, now Philippines country head of infrastructure consultancy firm Astris Finance, said moving general aviation to Sangley is “the right move.” 

“This coming transfer will help allow up to 60 movements per hour at Naia, which will substantially reduce congestion and flight delays,” he said. Naia’s hourly take off and landing movements are capped at about 40 per hour. 

The development of Sangley Airport is part of a menu of options identified under the DOTr’s multi-airport approach to Manila. This includes San Miguel Corp.’s proposed international airport in Bulacan province, whose bidding is underway, and the expansion of Clark International Airport in Pampanga province. 

Naia is also set to be upgraded and expanded should an offer by seven of the country’s largest conglomerates prosper and win final approval from the Duterte administration.