Legazpi City ––After more than two decades of waiting and slow construction of the P4.7 billion Bicol International Airport (BIA) will commence the maiden commercial flight next month,  Mayor Noel Rosal, Regional Development Council chairman said.

Rosal said Rodrigo R. Duterte will lead the opening of the P4.7 billion Bicol International Airport on October 6, 2021 after more than two decades of construction.

“Naoogma akong ipaaram saindo na ang Bicol international airport maoperate na next month. Maabot si Presidente sa October 6, to grace the opening pero ang maiden commercial flight mapuon sa October 7. Kaya naoogma kita at nagpapasalamat ki President Duterte ta inutod nya so saiyang panuga kan campaign period na ipapatapos ang construction kan international airport as his flagship project sa Bicol,” Rosal said. 

(We are happy to inform you that the BIA will be operating next month. President Rodrigo Duterte will be arriving on October 6 to grace the opening but the maiden commercial flight will commence on October 7. We’re happy and grateful to PResident Duterte as he fulfilled his promise to finish off the construction of the airport as his flagship project in Bicol.)  

“Nakipagtabangan kita sa DOTr kay Secretary Arthur Tugade na madagdagan so mga trabahador para mapakaskas an construction kan airport maski nasa  tahaw kita kan pandemya,” the mayor said. (We work with DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade to augment the workers to expedite the construction of the international airport even in the middle of the pandemic.)

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 Visayan areas.

Rep. Joey Salceda (2nd District) of Albay 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 said.

Salceda is pushing for the public and private partnership operation of Bicol International Airport 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.  Salceda said that 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 Bicol International Airport was pushed during the incumbency of former Legazpi City Mayor Imelda Roces and pursued by then former RDC chairman Albay governor Al Francis Bichara in 1995 until 2004.

After Bichara’s term in 2004, it was continued by then governor Fernando Gonzalez until 2006. When former governor Joey Sarrte Salceda assumed his post as the province’s top official, he zealously worked for the construction of the international but political differences slowed down the flagship project of the region’s officials.

The international airport started construction in 2008 under then President now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo but was put on hold following the snail-pace 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, the President personally visited the unfinished BIA in 2016 and directed DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade to expedite the construction of the international airport.

Jim Melo, DoTr assistant secretary for aviation and airports told The Manila Times that the ongoing construction of the BIA is 91 percent as of September 1, overall progress” since it began in December 2016.

“Yes, we are right on schedule. As of September 1, overall construction is already 91 percent complete,” Melo said. The international airport in Barangay Alobo, Daraga town will begin its domestic daytime operation on October 7 while the old Legazpi City Domestic Airport will be closed to commercial flight operation.

Salceda said that international flights will probably start by May. “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 November 9, but she explained that it might adjusted earlier because the facilities are already “in place”.(Rhaydz B. Barcia) 

Mayor Noel Rosal, RDC chairman in Bicol talks with DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade during his visit in Bicol International Airport last month. With him is Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda (2nd District) of Albay. (Raneza Sabina Barcebal)

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