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Gov’t mulls reopening GCQ airports

Maria Romero



The Department of Transportation (DoTr) is looking at gradual reopening of airports in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) to reboot the operations of commercial aviations.

Transportation chief Arthur Tugade said the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) should “seriously consider” this option to help the sector recover from the ravaging effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The reopening of airports in GCQ areas to commercial aviation will gradually jumpstart airline operations now hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. This will plant the seeds for domestic tourism,” Tugade said.

According to CAAP Director General Capt. Jim Sydiongcco, airlines have already crafted an air route network within the Visayas and Mindanao in preparation for the gradual reopening of the sector.

“Some airlines are readily capable of mounting inter-island flights to serve communities from one GCQ area to another GCQ area using the inter Visayas and/or Inter Mindanao air routes,” Sydiongco said.

This practice, he said, is known in the aviation sector as the “Hub and Spoke” model.

Using this model, air carriers can use regional airports as an alternative airport hub considering that the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, the Mactan-Cebu International Airport and the Clark International Airport in Pampanga are still under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and as such, are closed to regular commercial aviation operations.

Tugade noted that with this kind of setup, commercial airlines with operations normally concentrated in traditional airport hubs such as Manila, Mactan, and Clark, can now operate in regional airports such as Puerto Princesa, Zamboanga, General Santos, Laguindingan, among others, subject to their aircraft compatibility and configuration.

“We want to operationalize this approach before the end of next week, but of course without compromising health and safety protocols set by the IATF and the Department of Health,” he said.
Since late March, both local and international flights were canceled to control and manage the spread of the deadly coronavirus disease.

Meanwhile, in an act of solidarity with the airline industry during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the DoTr, through the CAAP and Manila International Airport Authority, has extended the period for the deferred collection of various fees and charges from its airport concessionaires.

During the virtual press briefing last Thursday led by Tugade, transport officials discussed actions which may be taken by the DoTr in addressing the coronavirus pandemic and new guidelines to be implemented by the transportation sector for areas in the country covered by GCQ.

During the briefing, Sydiongco announced that the agency has extended the deferred collection of several fees and charges, including lease or rental fees from airport concessionaires and the “rental holiday” has been extended until 15 May 2020, following the extension of the ECQ period in Metro Manila and other “high risk” areas in the country. A “rental holiday” was initially granted from 15 March to 30 April 2020.

According to Sydiongco, Tugade has already instructed them to implement another rental holiday in view of the extension of the ECQ up to 15 May. Further rental holidays will be discussed and possibly agreed upon as the situation progresses.

with Anthony Ching