Sunday, June 13, 2010

More flights to Boracay but airport isn't getting any better
BY MARICHU A. VILLANUEVA (The Philippine Star)

It’s back to school, at least for most students, including my son who is taking up medicine. His twin brother also literally taking up higher education — he wants to become a pilot — is set to enrol in a flying school. Unfortunately, we did not get to spend one summer weekend vacation in Boracay where we used to go the past two years.
Actually, we were about to go to Boracay but changed our mind. This was after we were told a lot of horror stories of holiday revelers getting stranded in Caticlan airport. The summer months are the peak season in the famous island paradise for holiday revelers. So we did not dare go there this time.
When I was ready to give up going to Boracay, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines(CAAP) announced on Monday the lifting of the one-way rule on flights at the Caticlan airport, or officially called Godofredo P. Ramos Airport. The one-way rule limited landing from the sea and towards the hill at Caticlan airport, which more often than not, results to flights being diverted to Kalibo. In this case, passengers would have no choice but wait for their return flight the next day or go to Kalibo airport where it would take one-hour travel by land from Caticlan.
The two-way rule, on the other hand, allows an approach from the other end of the runway. The lifting of this one-way rule particularly favors the Boracay flights of the Cebu Pacific Air to land and take off from either end of the runway and minimize operational flight diversions to Kalibo. The Gokongwei-owned airline firm operates 13 daily flights to Caticlan from Manila and 11 times weekly from Cebu.
This CAAP ruling enables Cebu Pacific Air to deploy with more frequency its 72-seater ATR turboprop planes to ease passenger traffic. The other airlines servicing Boracay include SEAIR which has 20-seater capacity Dornier planes, and the Airphil Express, sister company of Philippine Airlines, flies their Bombardier aircraft which has 17 to 20 passenger capacity also.
Per the CAAP report, Caticlan airport records the highest number of landing and take-off among secondary airports in the country. It could reach a peak of 130 per day, the CAAP noted. Despite this piece of good news, CAAP director Alfonso Cusi admitted that the rather short runway at Caticlan still poses a serious concern for safety, especially during the rainy season when a wet runway could be dangerous to cause hydroplaning or skidding of the aircraft on landing.
This is why the whole “save Caticlan hill, save Boracay” campaign against the upgrading of the Caticlan airport by diversifying conglomerate San Miguel Corp. just doesn’t make sense. The storylines paint the company like a raving, profit-hungry corporate juggernaut bent on earning from an airport construction deal at the expense of the environment.
This, after one government environment official, a certain Dr. Rick Javelosa was being quoted as having theorized that leveling Caticlan hill near the airport would result in harsh winds bringing heavy top soil to Boracay, making its shores muddy and killing tourism.
Now why would a company who supplies San Miguel beer, Monterey meats, Magnolia chicken, Ginebra liquors, Magnolia milk, sandwich spreads, and beverages, and Purefoods canned meats to the island, want to “destroy” one of its biggest markets?
From my own inquiries into the matter, all these hullabaloos have got to do with the proposed Carabao Island International Airport that was originally intended to become the hub for the Boracay, Carabao and Romblon islands.
A tourism industry leader who asked not to be identified intimated to me that the project’s proponents had been making a play to sell the Carabao island project to the cash-rich, diversifying San Miguel. But the offer could have easily been called an extortion, as the Carabao group reportedly super-inflated the 140-hectare property’s value.
Coupled with a number of safety issues, including the island’s strong, giant waves which would make the boat ride to Boracay more hair-raising than a dilapidated aircraft making do with a short runway, San Miguel did not pick up the offered alternative airport and instead turned its interest to Caticlan.
The same sources opined that the anti-Caticlan campaign is designed to make the Caticlan project look like it hit a big rock, presumably improving Carabao island’s prospects. The fact that anti-Caticlan crusaders are spreading half-truths about the project, indicates there are special interests involved.
At the sidelines of SMC’s recent stockholders’ meeting, its president and COO Ramon Ang was quoted as saying there is no need to level the entire hill. They only need to shave a portion of it for aircraft safety purposes. Ang has also said it is not an international airport, thwarting insinuations that the project is illegal because it’s too close to Kalibo International Airport. It will, however, meet international standards, he cited.
Even Dr. Javelosa’s micro-climatic change theory seems irrelevant once put side by side with the exhaustive Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) commissioned by the provincial government of Aklan in 2004. Conducted over a period of one and a half years by a battery of experts in geology, hydrology, meteorology, air and nose, social development and various other relevant fields, the study says the project will have no negative impact whatsoever on Boracay.
This same EIA became the basis for the issuance of its Environment Compliance Certificate (ECC) from the DENR in 2006. The DENR recently upheld the validity of this ECC, which means the study is more scientifically sound than any theory.
What make sense is for San Miguel to protect and help develop Boracay, because its business depends on the island’s success as a premiere tourist destination. Geez, I’m sounding like a public relations officer for San Miguel but they have highly paid consultants to do that job. Heck! All I want is to go to Boracay and be able to come back to Manila on the day I want to return home.
And to meet this traveler’s basic requirement who want to go to Boracay, is hopefully addressed by this San Miguel project in Caticlan Airport to expand its runway, make it safer for planes, and upgrade airport services. Let them get on with that project pronto.


Anonymous said...

Go to Kalibo International Airport if you want to be safe. You don't have to level a hill just because you want to save one hour of your trip. People like you will just pollute Boracay anyway, so don't go there for vacation if your one hour time is so precious. This is probably a SMC lobbied article. They have their own secret motive too, and SMC is too big to care if Boracay gets ruined along with their tiny, drop in a bucket investment.

christine said...

a bad road trip of almost 2 hours not 1 in a van packed tightly with a driver smoking is an omission of tourism advertising tjat border on a lie by omission.people dont goto boracay to live like savages, they did not sign up for outward bound rugged hardship trips. If its not relaxing and enjoyable, if anypart is angrily frustrating then it should be illegal to use any normal terms of adcert.