Bicol Int’l Airport to open October 6
By Rhaydz B. Barcia
President Rodrigo R. Duterte is set to grace the opening of the P4.7-billion Bicol International Airport (BIA) on Oct. 6, Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal said.
Rosal who is also the chairman of the Regional Development Council (RDC) in Bicol, said “We are grateful to President Rodrigo Duterte because the construction of the international airport is done. This will be our window to the world under the global pandemic.”
He added that Bicolanos are happy that after more than two decades, the Bicol International Airport will be finally open to the public and operational soon.
Rosal said that the opening of an international airport in Bicol will not only push robust progress in the countryside including the neighboring region in the Visayas.
Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda said that the opening of the BIA will help the region’s economy bounce back from the adverse impact of the pandemic that resulted in unemployment and closure of business establishments.
“The capacity of the Bicol International Airport is 2.2 million passengers per year is 83 percent higher than pre-pandemic tourist arrivals, which is 1.2 million in the province, and more than four times the foreign tourist arrivals in Albay,” Salceda, an economist, said.
“It will give an 81 percent increase in foreign tourist arrivals and a 35 percent increase in domestic tourist arrivals after five years that would boost the region’s economy,” Salceda added.
Salceda is also pushing for the public and private partnership operation of BIA to be competitive and provide bigger income for the government’s coffer.
He said that Aboitiz is interested in managing the international airport, while Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines are also eyeing the international airport as a hub in Southern Luzon.
Once operational, Salceda said that it is expected to serve a total of two million passengers annually and boost air traffic in the region.
He said that the country’s economy is badly affected by the global pandemic, but domestic tourism according to him is still the driver of economy, and Albay province is in an advantageous position as it will be the hub in Southern Luzon due to its strategic location
The construction of BIA was pushed during the term of former Legazpi City Mayor Imelda Roces and pursued by then former RDC chairman, Albay Gov. Al Francis Bichara in 1995 until 2004.
After Bichara’s term in 2004, it was continued by then Gov. Fernando Gonzalez until 2006. When former Gov. Joey Salceda assumed his post as the province’s top official, he zealously worked for the construction of the BIA but political differences slowed down the flagship project.
The BIA started construction in 2008 under then President now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, but it was put on hold following the snail-paced release of budget and political differences.
Former President Benigno Aquino picked up the project but was unable to complete it under his term. Subsequently after Duterte assumed his presidency, he personally visited the unfinished BIA in 2016 and directed DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade to expedite its construction.
Jim Melo, DoTr assistant secretary for Aviation and Airports, told Bicol Mail that the ongoing construction of the BIA is 91 percent complete as of Sept. 1.
“Yes, we are right on schedule. As of Sept. 1, overall construction is already 91 percent complete,” Melo said.
The BIA located in Barangay Alobo, Daraga town, will begin its domestic daytime operation on Oct. 7, while the Legazpi City Domestic Airport will be closed to commercial flight operation.
Salceda said that international flights will probably start by May next year. “Most likely the international flights would be Hongkong and next will probably be Incheon (South Korea) and Narita (Japan) and Singapore,” he said.
Cynthia Tumanut, CAAP Area Center 5 manager, said that the airport’s night operations is scheduled on Nov. 9, 2021, but she explained that it might be adjusted earlier because the facilities are already in place.