TACLOBAN CITY – The plan of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to divert the Tacloban-Manila flights to Clark International Airport (CRK) in Pampanga has faced strong opposition from government officials, business leaders, and travellers from the region.
The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) Eastern Visayas aired their concerns after Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade announced during a Senate hearing on Wednesday (August 10) that the three airlines – Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, and Air Asia – agreed to transfer all Tacloban-Manila flights to CRK located in Mabalacat, Pampanga.
On Wednesday, the regional PCCI chapters drafted a resolution to “reconsider and desist from implementing the full rerouting of all Tacloban-Manila flights to Clark international Airport.”
“The planned rerouting of all Tacloban-Manila flights by the three carriers serving this route to Pampanga is expected to cause grave negative impact on the fragile regional economy and effectively kill the tourism industry’s growth potential of Eastern Visayas,” the business group stated.
The major reasons cited that will hurt the tourism industry are higher airfares, increased land transportation cost, adjustment of airfreight cost, longer travel time, and inconvenience to passengers.
The DOTr initially planned to make Tacloban-Manila flights as pilot for rerouting to curb congestion at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila.
“If the DOTr really wishes to make a significant immediate impact in minimizing the congestion at Manila International Airport, then it should consider other routes with really high flight volumes in the Visayas such as Iloilo, Bacolod and Cebu with more than 50 plus flights per day combined,” the group pointed out.
“Another option is to study the moving of more international flights to Clark instead of domestic flights,” it added.
The PCCI regional chapter urged the DOTr to conduct a consultation with affected stakeholders in the region before announcing or implementing the rerouting scheme.
Department of Tourism (DOT) Regional Director Karina Rosa Tiopes said the plan, if it pushes through, there will be a setback to the tourism development in the region.
“Remember that after supertyphoon Yolanda, tourism was the first sector to recover and provide jobs to disaster victims. It was the only sector that posted growth in our regional economy,” Tiopes said in a mobile phone interview.
“The rerouting plan will discourage tourists to visit not just Leyte, but other five provinces since Tacloban Airport is the gateway of the region,” she added.
Tiopes wondered why the transportation department chose Tacloban for the pilot rerouting when disaster-stricken communities are “still picking up the pieces” after Yolanda left a trail of destruction.
“It’s better to have their pilot flights in established tourist destinations since people will really go there. The idea of traffic decongestion is good, but not at the expense of our people,” said National Economic and Development Authority Regional Director Bonifacio Uy.
Of the three sectors contributing to the Gross Regional Development Product, the service sector posted the highest acceleration at 6.8 percent, largely driven by tourist influx.
For the first quarter of 2016, tourist arrivals inched up by 14.4 percent to 146,013 from 127,661 a year ago.
The increase in tourist arrivals generated tourist receipts of P1.34 billion, up by 35 percent compared to the first quarter last year.
The Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport, one of the country’s busiest, is a gateway to Leyte, Biliran, Southern Leyte, Samar, Eastern Samar, and Northern Samar provinces.
In the first quarter of 2016, NEDA reported some 311,944 inbound and outbound passengers at the airport or a 12 percent growth than last year. (SARWELL Q. MENIANO)