MAIDEN FLIGHT. Minister Dickson Hermoso of the Ministry of Transportation and Communication of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (in white barong) leads the first passengers of the Philippine Airlines maiden flight from Cotabato to Tawi-Tawi at the Cotabato Airport in Datu Odin, Maguindanao, Thursday (June 9, 2022). The group arrived at about 9 a.m. at the Sanga-Sanga airport in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. (Photo courtesy of PAL)

COTABATO CITY – Philippine Airlines, the national flag carrier, started Thursday its commercial flight from this city to Tawi-Tawi, the first of such kind in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

“Hopefully, these Cotabato-Tawi-Tawi flights will increase in the coming days,” BARMM Chief Minister Ahod “Murad” Ebrahim said during the inaugural program at the pre-departure area of Cotabato airport in Barangay Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.

Before the maiden flight, Ebrahim boarded PAL’s Airbus 320 to conduct a ceremonial inspection of the aircraft.

“We hope this inaugural flight will serve as an answer to our long-time challenge of connectivity of Tawi-Tawi to mainland Mindanao and other parts of the country,” he said.

Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, BARMM interior minister and regional spokesperson, represented Ebrahim in the inaugural flight with BARMM Transportation Minister Dickson Hermoso that landed at Sanga-Sanga Airport in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi at past 9:30 a.m.

The flight carried 174 passengers excluding the plane’s crew members.

PAL said the Airbus 320 aircraft offers a choice of premium economy and economy seating orders and will operate twice-weekly -- every Monday and Thursday.

PR 2487 Cotabato to Tawi-Tawi departs at 7:30 a.m. and PR 2488 Tawi-Tawi to Cotabato at 9:40 a.m.

“This is a dream come true for me. This is less expensive on my part since I will no longer take chances of going to Davao to take a flight to Zamboanga and then to Tawi-Tawi,” said passenger Zia Alih, who works with the BARMM government.

Hermoso said the first tentative schedule agreed upon by his office, the Ministry of Transportation and Communication (MOTC-BARMM), and PAL was on December 20, 2021.

However, when Super Typhoon Odette struck, it affected much of Mindanao and Visayas from December 11-21, resulting in the suspension of the PAL’s maiden Cotabato-Tawi-Tawi flight.

“Stricter travel restrictions were imposed for most of the first quarter of 2022 because of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus disease-2019. There was also the election period to consider and then Tropical Storm Agaton in April,” Hermoso said. (PNA)