BAGUIO CITY—The city’s only airport, once recommended for closure, is being planned as an interisland facility by tourism and economic development officials.
Instead of pursuing commercial airlines that service Metro Manila, the Loakan Airport is being developed for smaller airplanes flying to and from destinations like Batanes, Cebu and Davao, according to a two-year market and development study conducted by the Cordillera Regional Development Council (RDC).
Purificacion Molintas, regional director of the Department of Tourism, said interisland flights are suitable for the Loakan Airport, which former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo proposed to close in April 2007.
Arroyo then said the airport could be converted into an extension of the Baguio City Economic Zone, which hosts top exporter Texas Instruments Philippines Inc., after observing that major airlines had stopped using the Loakan Airport because Baguio’s erratic weather and afternoon fog made the trips dangerous.
Airlines also maintain fleets of planes, which are too big for the Baguio airport, which was built in 1934. The major airlines could not also subsidize the small Baguio market.
Arroyo proposed to divert all flights meant for Baguio City to the San Fernando City airport in La Union province, which was primed as an international airport serving northern Luzon.
Arroyo, however, withdrew this plan in 2008, after businessmen lobbied against Loakan’s closure.
The upgrading of the La Union airport at Poro Point, meanwhile, had not proceeded as scheduled because of legal issues over land, as well as economic feasibility concerns, including its proximity to the Clark International Airport, government documents showed.
Antonio Caluza, RDC member representing the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers, said the RDC study and a 2013 market survey covering January to July concluded that a small interisland fleet of airplanes would not need a redesigned Baguio airport, although the Loakan airport may need to be widened from its current 40 meters to 60 m.
The prospects of a shorter trip from Metro Manila to Baguio were also studied, with the construction of a Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEx) that would link the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx) and the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) to roads leading to Baguio, Caluza said.
TPLex would cut the six- to seven-hour drive from Metro Manila to Baguio down to three to four hours, which would encourage more bus trips instead of flights, Molintas said.
But she said the interisland market involves people who prefer to fly. She said Luzon commuters have been used to bus rides and long road trips being part of landlocked communities, but flying is the top choice of travel for commuters from the Visayas and Mindanao, based on the RDC survey.
Foreign tourists also prefer flying to a remote destination, instead of enduring long bus rides, she said. “This is the type of [travel] behavior the Loakan airport would soon serve,” she said. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon