LAGUINDINGAN, Misamis Oriental—Barely three days before its commercial operation, the P7.9-billion Laguindingan Airport is already in need of expansion to meet the expected influx of air passengers in Northern Mindanao.
Despite the lack of several precision instruments to guide landing aircraft, the new airport, located some 50 kilometers from the old Lumbia airport in Cagayan de Oro City, was inaugurated Tuesday, with President Aquino and other top government officials attending. It will be open to commercial flights on June 15.
Aquino affirmed the airport’s high safety assessment during a press forum, saying it was safe to land there even during bad weather. Three times bigger than Lumbia, it could accommodate five wide-bodied planes at a time, he said.
Also known as Cagayan de Oro Airport, Lumbia was considered the second-busiest airport in Mindanao after Francisco Bangoy International Airport in Davao City. Located on a hilltop where visibility is usually affected by fog, it serves Cagayan de Oro and nearby areas in northern Mindanao.
Currently, there are 25 daily flights at Lumbia.
Laguindingan Airport sits on a 400-hectare property donated by Ayala Corp. It has a three-kilometer runway and a terminal with a floor area of 7,184 square meters.
The safety issue persists as it lacks the Instrument Landing Systems, a vital piece of ground equipment that tells aircraft the precise position of the runway; VHF omni-directional radio range (VOR); the Distance Measuring Equipment (DME), Meteorological Observing System; Precision Approach Lighting System-Category 1; and the Precision Approach Path Indicator.
Several groups led by the Cagayan de Oro Chamber of Commerce and Industry have asked to defer the opening of the new airport, pointing out that the absence of air navigation and systems support facilities and the pilots’ reliance on the visual-flight rule would reduce the number of flights.
“The sunrise-to-sunset operation will greatly affect our campaign to entice airline companies to invest in the city. Most significantly, such a move will jeopardize public safety and the integrity of the multibillion-peso project,” the Chamber said.
Lt. Gen. William Hotchkiss III, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), said that despite the absence of several guiding instruments, planes could take off and land more safely at the airport than at the older and aging Lumbia.
In April, two test flight landings of a Cessna and Pilatus PC-12 aircraft were conducted as part of the airport’s “dry run” activities. Maj. Gen. Artemio Orozco, CAAP chief of staff, had said the pilots would assess wind conditions for landing and that a probing flight for passenger airlines would also be scheduled in the coming weeks.
One of the pilots said he was impressed with the new airport’s runway and that even without navigational lighting, it was safer than Lumbia.
The construction of the airport was started in 2008 although the project was conceptualized during the administration of President Corazon Aquino in the late 1980s and approved by then President Fidel V. Ramos. During the term of President Joseph Estrada, only P375 million was allocated for the project.
Under the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the airport’s construction was put on hold until 2006 when the Laguindingan Airport Development Project was inaugurated, with Arroyo herself leading the groundbreaking ceremony.
The opening of Laguindingan Airport was moved from April to June 15 on the request of airlines, which found it difficult to rearrange flight schedules of affected passengers.
Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, who was present during Tuesday’s ceremony, said the number of air passengers was projected at 1.6 million per year.