GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) is planning to open as early as next month direct flights between this city and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, reviving the international status of the newly upgraded airport.
Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade disclosed this development during the inspection by President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night of the airport’s new passenger terminal building and other vital facilities.
“On Dec. 9, PAL formally signified to us that they will again start their international operations (for the) GenSan-Kuala Lumpur-GenSan (route),” he announced during his speech.
Tugade said the opening of the upcoming flights will upgrade the city airport to international status after being “delayed and suspended” for a long time.
He credited the move to the completion last September of the rehabilitation of the airport’s passenger terminal building and other facilities, which were part of the PHP959-million upgrade implemented under the flagship Build, Build Build program.
The other completed components are the procurement and installation of navigational aids and the construction of the new Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) administration building.
Tugade said these improvements, which tripled the terminal building area from 4,000 to 12,000 square meters, doubled the airport’s passenger capacity from one million to two million annually.
He said the airport terminal features an aerobridge and the expanded space now allows the airport to park seven planes at one time from the previous three to four.
They also acquired various new equipment that will facilitate “contactless” operations and transactions at the airport, among them the flight check-in and baggage drop, he said.
Tugade said the “contactless approaches" at the city airport are so far “the first in Mindanao”.
“This is a good vision. It shows that those in the airline business are recognizing the changes that CAAP introduced at the airport here,” he said.
The city airport, considered as strategic in terms of location and among the biggest in the country, last served international flights in late 2003.
Indonesian carrier Merpati Nusantara Airlines opened weekly flights between the city and Manado then using a Fokker 70 aircraft but it folded up after a month due to poor passenger traffic.
President Duterte lauded the DOTr for ensuring the “timely completion” of the airport projects despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 or the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s now bigger and better. You have contactless facilities, all the needs of a modern airport,” the President said in his speech.
He said it is another significant milestone under the Build, Build, Program that will usher in tremendous benefits for the area.
The President said it will mainly boost interconnectivity and revive the agro-industrial and eco-tourism prospects of the area.
“I’m proud that we have this airport. These are the things that we will be leaving to all of you here,” he said.
Aside from the airport, the President made a brief stop at the Makar wharf here to also inspect the completed projects.
It includes the construction of the Port Operations Building and other vital facilities, which includes a parking area, covered court, port manager’s quarter or Day Care Center, and drainage system.
“The improved port of Makar will now offer safer, comfortable, and a more convenient port experience to passengers, while ensuring a faster turnaround for vessels, cargo trucks, and other ancillary service providers,” the DOTr said in a briefer.
City Mayor Ronnel Rivera said the local government is “deeply grateful” to the national government for including the city as among the priority areas of the Build, Build, Build program.
He said the completed wharf and airport projects open a wide array of opportunities that will generate more economic activities for the city and “a multiple expanded growth to the whole nation.”
“We are one with the Duterte administration in its direction towards enhancing mobility, safety, and connectivity, apropos to airline travel, maritime travel, and road travel,” he said. (PNA)