By Hannah Torregoza
Sen. Richard Gordon on Tuesday urged the government to fast-track the reopening of the Subic Bay International Airport (SBIA) which could very well help resolve the country’s airport runway problems.
Gordon stressed the urgency for the SBIA to be immediately opened, restored, upgraded, and operated as an alternate airport following the runway mishap at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) that caused hundreds of flight cancellations, much to the inconvenience of air passengers last weekend.
According to Gordon, P553 million had already been appropriated from the 2017 General Appropriations Act (GAA) for the restoration of facilities and procurement of digital radar systems and instrument landing systems, among others.
Gordon, founding chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), said he and current SBMA chairperson Wilma “Amy” Eisma worked hard to ensure funding for the revival of the SBIA. The facility closed down in 2009 in favor of converting it into a logistics hub.
“Our country could have avoided and reduced the stress and inconvenience it caused to stranded passengers, not to mention the international reputational damage we are all now encountering, by diverting some of the flights not only to Clark, but also to Subic,” Gordon said.
“This is not a Monday Morning Quarterbacking or the day after the game brilliant thinking,” he stressed.
To prevent a similar airport fiasco from occurring again, Gordon said the government should outsource dedicated emergency equipment at the NAIA to immediately clear any interruption caused by aircraft crashes from the runway.
Citing a similar fiasco in 1995, Gordon recalled that when a China Airlines Jet bound for Taiwan blocked the NAIA runway on December 13 and international flights had to be diverted to the SBIA, which at that time, had the most advanced radar and airport navigational aids in the country.
“We could have avoided or at least lessened damage, with vision and knowledge from the lessons taken in that similar fiasco in 1995, we could outsource dedicated emergency equipment at NAIA to immediately remove any interruption caused by aircraft crashes from the runway,” he said.
“Airports are the country’s doorway to tourism, trade and investment. Thus, when flights are delayed or cancelled, it incurs cost, not only to passengers who are stressed and inconvenienced because they miss their work, classes or other appointments, but also to the airlines and companies doing trade and commerce,” he said.
Had it been operational, flights could have been diverted to both SBIA and Clark International Airport (CIA) which would have mitigated the effects of the closure of NAIA’s main runway on August 17, Gordon pointed out.
“As it was, passengers of cancelled flights were still stranded at the NAIA up to yesterday (Sunday) and awaiting announcements on their flights. If the SBIA was already opened, flights could have been diverted to the two airports – SBIA and CIA,” Gordon said.
Earlier, the lawmaker stressed the need to complete the rehabilitation of the SBIA to enable it to return to full operation by the second quarter of 2019.
He also called on the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to facilitate the bidding for airport equipment as soon as possible.
According to Gordon, SBIA is a precision approach CAT 1 airport capable of accommodating almost all types of modern aircraft. It has a runway length of 2, 744 meters with effective width of 45 meters.
He also said the runway aircraft capacity of SBIA is at least 20 movements per hour. It has a terminal building with two tubes that can process 700 passengers per hour.
The senator also said SBIA boasts of complete visual aids, such as the precision approach path indicator, runway centerline lights, runway edge lights, touchdown zone lights, approach lighting systems, taxiway carter line and edge lights, aerodrome beacon light etc.