Salceda: DOTr to finish Bicol Int’l Airport before yearend

DARAGA, ALBAY — The Department of Transportation (DOTr) has vowed to finish construction work of the Bicol International Airport (BIA) in Barangay Alobo here.

Albay Second District Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda and DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade earlier this week inspected the project together to assess the work accomplishments on it.

Salceda, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee who has worked long ang hard to push the project, said the BIA is seen as among the keys to help stave off the harsh impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic to the economy.

Tugade said the airport terminal is already about 92% completed and would be finished in June or July this year, while the other facilities are 65-70%. He assured the completed infrastructure will be delivered before yearend.

The P4.5-billion airport project which began construction in 2008, was scheduled for completion in 2015, but funding and other problems such the burning of construction equipment on the site had delayed its completion.

Funds for it were released in three tranches — P300 million in 2009; another P300 million in 2010 for road construction and site development; and P970 million in 2019 for the construction of a 2.1-kilometer runway.

Salceda said Tugade had assured the BIA’s December opening despite the pandemic: The operation of airports in during the pandemic is regulated by the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) to balance the health protocols and the need to revive the economy.

Salceda, who initiated the project and patiently worked on it for years, said the BIA is considered a vital key to development and is envisioned to unlock the economic potentials of Southern Luzon. It is among the large infrastructure undertakings under President Duterte’s ‘Build, Build, Build” Program and is envisioned to help make the economy more stable, and stave off the harsh impacts of the Covid-19 crisis.

The Albay lawmaker-economist said “too many opportunities” were already lost because of the delayed operation of the BIA and he hopes its December completion deadline set by the DOTr will be finally met this time. Once BIA opens, the Legazpi City Domestic Airport, Bicol region’s busiest, will be closed down, he added.

The BIA is expected to serve about 2 million passengers a year, 1.4 million of them domestic travelers and about 700,000 foreign visitors, Salceda said, adding that with the vaccination against Covid-19 now underway, local officials hope its projected passenger traffic would be achieved by 2022, when most Filipinos would have been inoculated.

“The BIA is no ordinary airport because this is the only international airport south of Manila and it has the capacity to serve as hub for any of the two airlines, be it Cebu Pacific or Philippine Airlines, on account of its strategic location,” he said. It has both higher capacity facilities and state-of-the-art operational safety, and is expected to transform Albay, Bicol’s regional center, into an economic powerhouse.

Salceda said “the BIA which has the iconic Mayon Volcano as its magnificent backdrop, and is adjacent to the historic Cagsawa Ruins, will play a huge role in the country’s economic recovery, especially when international travel resumes.”

Strongly pushed by Salceda during his earlier stint in Congress and later as Albay governor and Bicol Regional Development Council chair for nine years, the project started in 2005 but construction in earnest began only in 2009.

“There is now reasonable optimism that the executive decisiveness of the Duterte administration could deliver the BIA, a vital infrastructure to help realize the rich potentials of Bicol and Southern Luzon, and which is also crucial to the country’s development,” Salceda stressed.