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Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade has directed a 24/7 schedule for the construction of Sangley Airport in Cavite province to comply with President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to start operations at the Cavite air hub immediately to help decongest Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) said the transport chief has ordered the hiring of additional manpower, implementation of extended working hours, and infusion of additional equipment starting June 13, 2019.

“Whatever it takes, we need to make sure that the directive of the President is delivered. Hire more manpower to work 24/7. Kailangan matapos ’yan [It has to be finished] on or before the timeline set by President Duterte,” Tugade said.

Duterte gave the order in a Cabinet meeting on June 11 following his surprise visit to NAIA on June 10 amid reports of flight delays and cancellations at the airport.

Last June 9, NAIA flights were delayed because of a red lightning alert issued by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration that lasted for over two hours. A red lightning alert is issued when a thunderstorm, accompanied by intense lightning activity, is within 9 kilometers of the airport.

Construction of Sangley Airport started last year, and is now at 48.68% completion rate. The asphalt overlay of the runway was finished in February this year, while the passenger terminal building is 18% complete, the drainage 71.6%, and the hangars 37%, DOTr said.

To comply with Tugade’s directive to accelerate the Sangley Airport project, DOTr assistant secretary for procurement and project implementation Giovanni Lopez met with members of Task Force Sangley on June 12, the meeting also attended by representatives from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), Philippine Air Force (PAF), ferry system, and project contractor.

In December 2017 Unimasters Conglomeration, Inc. won the contract to rehabilitate and develop Sangley airport with a bid of P486.107 million.

DOTr undersecretary for aviation and airports Capt. Manuel Antonio Tamayo in December last year said the department expects to complete the project by the third quarter of 2019.

Lopez, meanwhile, reported that critical developments of the project are well underway. These include the runway, apron, passenger terminal building, power supply, drainage system, and site development.

Lopez further relayed Tugade’s instructions to CAAP to work closely with DOTr on the civil works so that support facilities can be immediately incorporated for the airport to be able to begin operations at the soonest time possible. To this end, a synchronization matrix will be submitted as a guide for monitoring.

Also during the meeting, an ocular inspection was held at the possible site of the ferry station in coordination and compliance with the regulations of Philippine Ports Authority, CAAP, PAF, and the Philippine Navy.

The contractor of the Sangley Airport project has also agreed to submit a weekly progress report and to have a weekly site visit and inspection by the DOTr for close monitoring of the construction’s progress.

DOTr, meanwhile, said airlines in a meeting on June 13 pledged their full support to utilizing Sangley Airport for non-commercial operations once operations start.

“It was a productive and mutually beneficial meeting. Airlines expressed their willingness and commitment to support the government’s thrust to utilize Sangley Airport. This is a solid demonstration of their trust and confidence in the administration of President Duterte,” Tugade said.

To this end, airline companies will sign a pledge of commitment and support on June 24, 2019 to manifest their cooperation with the government’s move to address aviation concerns holistically.

The meeting was attended by Manila International Airport Authority general manager Ed Monreal, CAAP director general Jim Sydiongco, Civil Aeronautics Board executive director Carmelo Arcilla, and airline officials Michael Tan of Philippine Airlines, Lance Gokongwei of Cebu Pacific, and Capt. Dexter Comendador of AirAsia.

During the meeting, airlines agreed to use Sangley Airport for general aviation, freight turboprop operations, and commercial turboprop operations as soon as the infrastructure is in place.

Additionally, general aviation users will be notified to relocate fully to Clark International Airport in Pampanga and Sangley Airport in a year’s time to help decongest NAIA. General aviation is defined as the operation of a civil aircraft other than a commercial air transport operation or aerial work operation.

Tugade said the relocation will free up space in the four terminals of NAIA to allow for improvements and additions in the country’s main gateway.

Additionally, positive actions to address passenger discomfort in case of delays were discussed in the meeting, including the imposition of penalties for flight delays attributed to airlines.

In recent years, DOTr noted that NAIA has seen a substantial increase in the number of passengers, flights, and airport slots per hour, resulting in congestion.

Prior to 2016, NAIA passenger traffic was at 36.5 million. By 2018, the figure has increased to 45 million, or an upsurge of 8.4 million passengers or 23.08%.

During the same period, the number of flights grew by over 14,000 (5.75%), and airport slots per hour increased from 36 to 44 (22.22%).

In a bid to hold airlines accountable for their performance to the air-riding public, DOTr since mid-May has been publishing the On-Time Performance (OTP) rating of airline companies, as well as the reasons for flight delays, in major newspapers and on official DOTr online platforms.

In a radio interview on June 13, Tugade stressed that DOTr is working on a basket of solutions to decongest NAIA, such as airport infrastructure developments in Clark and Sangley, and the construction of the New Manila International Airport in Bulacan.

Kombinasyon ng samu’t saring pamamaraan ang kailangan para maibsan ang [A combination of various solutions is needed to ease] congestion [at] NAIA 1, 2, 3 at 4. We have to have a basket of approaches, hindi iisang solusyon lang dahil talagang napakaraming pasahero [not just a single solution because there are just too many passengers],” the transportation chief said.

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