MANILA – Senators told officials on Thursday not to let certain idle airports in different parts of the country remain unused and instead work to generate economic activity and income from them.
At a hearing on the proposed 2016 budget of the Department of Transportation and Communications, Director-General William Hotchkiss of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said his agency owns and operates 82 airports all over the country.
However, only about 41 have commercial operations. The rest are either idle or are used as flying schools and for military flights.
“What a waste,” Senate finance committee chair Loren Legarda said. “Is this customary…or are we wasting infrastructure which can be upgraded so we can have more domestic flights?”
Hotchkiss told the committee that airport authorities are now on a “catching up” mode, developing some airports for commercial purposes while upgrading others for military use.
However, he said having commercial airlines use some of the airports is beyond CAAP’s control.
“Getting commercial flights into an airport is an economic and business decision of the airlines themselves,” Hotchkiss said. “We cannot force them to fly to particular airports.”
Senate President Franklin Drilon said not every airport in the country was built with commercial viability in mind. Still, he advised CAAP to explore how to do business out of them.
“Maybe you can start looking at converting them into some high-value usage,” he said.
Drilon, who hails from Iloilo, cited the example of the city’s old airport, which has been turned into a business center by a private developer.
Legarda agreed. “When you keep and maintain the whole 82, there’s so much capital outlay or good money that can be used elsewhere,” she told airport officials.
Hotchkiss said CAAP is already heading towards that direction, with a plan “geared towards maximizing the full potential of the airports we have.”
He said five airports will be upgraded under government’s public-private partnership program, while a number have been selected for use by some 45 flying schools all over the country.
“We can maximize our potential as a flying school capital in the ASEAN region,” Hotchkiss said.
Source: Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News