By John Noel E. Herrera
Top local chief executives in the province and city of Iloilo are urging the resumption of international flights at the Iloilo Airport in Cabatuan town.
In a press conference on Thursday, March 16, 2023, Governor Arthur Defensor Jr. noted that the resumption of direct flights from Iloilo to Singapore and vice-versa and from Iloilo to Hong Kong and vice-versa are already needed.
“We want the flights to resume kag husto ina nga kinahanglan ina,” Defensor said.
The governor, however, said that he cannot speak for the airline companies as their decisions to resume international flights are market and demand-driven.
“I cannot speak for the airlines, pero muna ang pagkahibalo nga market driven and demand driven. Basi tuod-tuod man nga may demand na, but gina pulsuhan man na nila. They know if the right demand is right for them, but nonetheless, I continue to talk to them,” he said.
Defensor stressed that the province even prepared the airport for the possible resumption of flights, citing that they have placed health and safety protocols for COVID-19 and monkeypox.
“Remember sang nagligad, gin-preparar gid naton ang airport and our protocols during that time nga may monkeypox pa, may bilin pa sa COVID-19, gin-preparar naton ang protocols so that we can open, but it did not open,” he said.
In October 2022, the provincial government, through the Iloilo Provincial Health Office (PHO), implemented additional health protocols in the airport and conducted simulation exercises like screening of incoming passengers to ensure safety and lessen the risk brought by the COVID-19 pandemic and monkeypox.
Meanwhile, Iloilo City Mayor Jerry P. Treñas sent a letter to three airline companies, requesting the resumption of international flights.
In his letter dated March 16, 2023, addressed to Cebu Pacific chief executive officer Mike Szucs, Philippine Airlines President Capt. Stanley Ng, and AirAsia Philippines chief executive officer Ricky Isla, Trenas noted he was prompted to write due to the “influx of concerns from constituents with international and domestic flights whose travel needs are unmet caused not only by long queues at immigration for outbound travel, but also exorbitant travel expenses associated with multiple bookings on connecting flights.”
“While tourism continues to be one of the sectors hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic landscape here in Iloilo City perceives a continuing travel boom to the Asia-Pacific Region. It would seemingly show that demand for travel has not dampened consumers looking to make up for time lost to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Treñas added.
The city mayor also wrote a letter to the Aboitiz Group to explore possible collaboration to enhance Iloilo Airport’s appeal and functionality as he “strongly believes that the airport is in dire need of improvements to better serve its passengers.”
In 2018, Aboitiz InfraCapital Incorporated (AIC) submitted a P148-billion unsolicited proposal to upgrade, expand, operate, and maintain four major regional airports in the country over a 35-year concession period, which included the Iloilo Airport.
But the Department of Transportation (DOTr) at that time rejected the proposal and canceled the planned auction in favor of public bidding and using either Official Development Assistance (ODA) or the national budget.
In June 2019, former president and house speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo noted that the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) had already granted an original proponent status (OPS) to the unsolicited proposal submitted by Aboitiz for the expansion of the airport.
It was then forwarded to the National Development Authority (NEDA) for evaluation and approval before undergoing a Swiss challenge, but the expansion did not materialize after that.
Defensor, on the other hand, noted that Iloilo Airport is again up for expansion under the Marcos administration’s airport expansion project through a public-private partnership (PPP).
DOTr secretary Jaime Bautista previously said that the national government, through a PPP scheme, will complete at least P1 trillion worth of airport projects in the province in 2023, and among these is the Iloilo Airport.
Bautista added that DOTr continues to assess unsolicited proposals for PPP projects involving several regional airports, including the Aboitiz Group which plans to participate more in airport expansion projects after sealing a landmark deal to acquire shares in GMR Megaworld Cebu Airport Corp., the developer and operator of Mactan Cebu International Airport.
Treñas also said that he was impressed with the Mactan Cebu International Airport, which serves as an example of “a successful PPP project.”
He added that he was just waiting for the response of Aboitiz InfraCapital President Cosette V. Canilao after she tackles the proposal and studies the possibilities of investing in the Iloilo Airport.