by the Editors
Things are looking up for residents of this geographically-isolated island in the Pacific Ocean as far the transportation sector is concerned.
Last week, officials of the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Department of Transportation (DOTr) signed a memorandum of agreement titled “Institutionalized Leveraging of Infrastructure Program for Airport Development (iLiPAD) which aims to synchronize efforts to boost airport and route development programs.
Under the tourism infrastructure convergence program, the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), the implementing agency and infrastructure arm of the DOT, is set to approve P1 billion funding for several airports in the country to equip them with night-rating capabilities.
In a later statement, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) Director General Jim C. Sydiongco announced that Virac Airport is among the 13 key provincial airports slated to be given night-rating capability in the next three years, with the island’s airport scheduled to be ready to accept night flights before the end of 2022.
In 2018, during the term of then powerful House Transportation Committee chair Rep. Cesar V. Sarmiento, Virac headed the list of 17 other provincial airports proposed by the DOTr for night rating. However, budget cuts in succeeding years, which led to the delay in the implementation of the program, also set back Virac Airport’s chances for improvement as a tourist destination and vital gateway to the island and its many attractions.
It would be the turn of incumbent Congressman Hector S. Sanchez to ensure that the required funding for the night-rating of Virac Airport would be there by 2021 so that the upgrading project would be completed by 2022.
As this is an election year, the achievement of this long-held dream not only of regular air commuters but also of disaster response managers would be crucial for Sanchez’s reelection bid.
The importance of night-rating cannot be understated, as the airport’s operation has often been hamstrung by low visibility and the so-called sunset limitation. Often, regular commercial flights have been cancelled for failure of the pilots to locate the airport even during light rain while fast deliveries of relief flights are hampered by their inability to land during the night.
Along with this very welcome development, the DOTr also announced last week the signing of the contract for the delivery of new trains for the Philippine National Railways (PNR) South Long Haul or PNR Bicol.
According to DOTr, the PNR Bicol project consists of three train sets and car formations that will arrive by June 2021 and will be initially deployed for long haul service from Manila to Laguna, Batangas, Quezon, Camarines Sur and Albay provinces.
The first phase of the PNR Bicol project that will traverse from Calamba City in Laguna to Legazpi City in Albay is set to start construction in the 2nd quarter of 2020, it said.
The new trains will accommodate 168 passengers in business class (36 seats), first class (52 seats), and second class (80 seats).
Once it is running, the new railway will cut down the Manila to Legazpi travel time to less than five hours, a significant improvement over the current land trips that last 10 hours.
These twin developments will present better options for the traveler to and from this happy island, especially those who have experienced the frustration and difficulty of cancelled flights, rough seas and hard travel on the overland route.
Perhaps, the local shipping companies plying the island-mainland sea route would be forced to likewise upgrade their services or bring in newer passenger ships, to match the upcoming competition.