Decades-old Zamboanga airport transfer study makes progress
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – The proposal to move Zamboanga City’s civilian airport is facing the last step in determining whether the multi-billion project would be feasible to implement.
Rodrigo Sicat, the city’s planning and development coordinator, said a technical team from the Department of Transportation (DOTr) will be visiting here on Wednesday, February 28, to conduct a geotechnical investigation to complete the feasibility study on the plan.
“We firmly believe that the feasibility study would reach the next level which is already project funding,” Sicat said in an interview on Monday, February 26.
The geotechnical study was supposed to be done in November 2017, said Sicat, but due to delays, extensions were granted.
Since the Ramos administration, local officials here have long wanted to move the airport due to its proximity to the city center, limiting vertical development, such as high-rise buildings.
On Monday, Sicat met with officials from the Department of Tourism (DOT), Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), as well as cabinet secretaries from the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to discuss how Zamboanga City could improve its connectivity.
The Zamboanga International Airport (ZIA) is Mindanao’s third busiest airport, which saw a million passenger movements in 2017. It connects the city to Manila, Cebu, Davao, Cotabato, and Tawi-Tawi – and is expected to mount more flights to local and foreign destinations.
Government planners are gathering support to revive the Zamboanga-Sandakan route. Secretary Abdul Khayr Alonto, MinDA chair, said they “are seeing the Zamboanga-Sandakan route to complement our Tawi-Tawi Special Economic and Freeport Zone Development efforts, given that Sandakan is one of our direct links to a larger EAGA community.” EAGA stands for East Asian Growth Area, a subregional economic group to which the Philippines is part of.
A Zamboanga-Sandakan flight was planned to be launched in October 2017, but the operator, Cebu Pacific Air, soon announced it would postpone the service.
Mounting more flights from the current airport is a concern as it would mean the government needs to infuse funds to upgrade the airport's capacity, which at the same time is eyed for transfer.
The government has spent P40 million to upgrade its runway facility, while another P70 million for the feasibility study of the multi-billion new airport project which will be located some 12 kilometers from the existing airport.
It was a project that was taken off the Medium Term Public Investment Program of then Department of Transportation and Communications, said Sicat.
“It has been our dream in Zamboanga for 3 decades,” he added.
The National Economic and Development Authority has endorsed the project in 2017, according to Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar in earlier media interviews.
Firms eyeing old airport
Since 2016, publicly-listed firms have written to the city of their interest to develop existing the airport’s current location into a mixed-use commercial area, should the move proceed.
Sicat said the government could take advantage of these with respect to achieving a return of investment.
“Thus, what the city is proposing is that if you are an investor you invest in the new airport and you get the option to develop the (old airport) into a commercial area,” he said.
ZIA sits on a 140-hectare government-owned land covered by Barangays Sta. Maria and San Roque. Adjacent to the commercial airport is the Edwin Andrews Air Base, which is also included in the transfer plan, according to Sicat. - Rappler.com