President Duterte leads groundbreaking of P4.8-B Bicol International Airport in Daraga, Albay

DARAGA, Albay — President Rodrigo Duterte with Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade on Thursday led the groundbreaking rites for the long-delayed P4.8-billion Bicol International Airport (BIA) project in Barangay Alobo in Daraga town, Albay province.

The groundbreaking marked the start of the P708-million construction work of the landside facilities of the airport project that is seen to boost tourism and economic development not just in Bicol but in the entire Southern Luzon.

Elizaldy Co, owner of Sunwest Construction and Development Corp., contractor of the BIA project, in an interview, said the project carries a two-year time frame.

He said “the project would be completed by 2019.”

Co said the landside facilities consist of 17 buildings for administration, cargo terminal, air traffic control, crash fire rescue, power house, maintenance, material recovery facilities, pump room and water reservoir, chilled water pump house, chlorination house 1 and 2, guard houses and headquarters of the Department of Transportation (DOTr)-Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines.

The government has initially spent some P1.6 billion for the airport project for the acquisition of the lands and the construction of a 2.1-kilometer runway.

Implementation of the airport project was delayed for 11 years as this was conceptualized and approved during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and passed on to President Benigno Aquino III.

The project should have been operational this year but despite the availability of funds, work was snail paced due to lapses in the bidding process. Construction work has been confined to the airside while the structures at the landside area of the proposed airport are still being worked out.

Funds for the airport project were released in three tranches: P300 million in 2009 and another P300 million in 2010 for concrete road construction and site development. The P970-million funding released in 2012 was spent for the construction of the 2.1-kilometer runway.

Once finished, the BIA project will not only totally address the technical limitations of the existing Legazpi airport due to frequent flight cancellations but will also provide safer air transportation to the growing number of passengers because of the booming tourism industry in the area.

The BIA lies in a 148-hectare area with 2,100-meter runway strip. It will be equipped with night landing capability and take-off facilities, control tower, passenger and cargo terminal, car park, fire station and other modern facilities.

Albay Governor Al Francis Bichara said that as President Duterte led the groundbreaking rites of the “BIA Package 2” project, he requested the President and Sec. Tugade to revise the airport’s design.

He said he has asked DOTr to redesign the BIA airport so it could meet the required standards of an international airport.

Bichara said that after a consultation with known architect Felino “Jun” Palafox, the latter told him that the international airport had yet to start operating but “it seems the facilities are already obsolete.”

Palafox specifically requested that there should be a revision of the airport taxiway to make room for the planes’ arrival and departure.

He also noted that the existing two-lane road networks that connect the airport to the Maharlika highway should be expanded to a six-lane road to meet international standards.

Albay second district Rep. Joey Salceda thanked Mr. Duterte for his decisive action in giving the go-signal for the airport’s construction.

He expressed confidence that the international airport will sustain the gains of Albay’s tourism with foreign tourist arrivals shooting up from 8,700 in 2007 to 339,000 in 2015 during his term.

Together with the new South Railway project, Salceda said he is confident foreign tourists will triple to 1.2 million by 2025 and make Albay an economic powerhouse.

The President affirmed his support in reviving the railway system in the Bicol region so the region could catch up in its infrastructure development.

He said the railway system in Southern Luzon could be completed in two to three years time as long as it is not tainted with corruption. Connie Destura/