Virac Airport to be ready for night flights by 2022

Virac Airport is among the 13 key provincial airports slated to be given night-rating capability in the next three years under a P1-billion project to be funded this year by the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) under a tourism infrastructure convergence program.

The promising development was announced during the Jan. 7, 2020 conference in Clark, Pampanga, between officials of the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Department of Transportation (DOTr) in a bid to ensure that the country’s tourism industry is off to another productive year with enhanced tourism infrastructure and increased connectivity.

During the conference, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat and Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade 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.

In her opening remarks, the tourism chief announced that TIEZA, the implementing agency and infrastructure arm of the DOT, is currently working with the DOTr on the possibility of funding several airports in the country to equip them with night-rating capabilities.

“Funding amounting to P1 billion is set for approval by the TIEZA Board in their next board meeting,” she disclosed. “We must make sure that it’s not only more fun in the Philippines, but much safer too.”

In response, DOTr Sec. Tugade expressed his full support and commitment to work with the DOT.

“I would like to thank the Department of Tourism (DOT). This gesture is very encouraging, because believe it or not, the capacity of all commercially-operating airports in the Philippines has and have to be night-rated in order that they make sense and the efficiency desired can be achieved,” he stressed.

In a separate briefing, Sec. Romulo-Puyat bared that among the airports that will fall under the Tieza night-rating project will be Laguindingan Airport in Cagayan de Oro City, Labo Airport in Ozamiz City, Sibulan Airport in Dumaguete City, Dipolog Airport in Zamboanga del Norte, and Ormoc Airport in Leyte.

Queried about the development, Catanduanes Congressman Hector S. Sanchez told the Tribune that he has yet to confirm Virac Airport’s inclusion in the priority list.

“’Yan ho ang nilalakad ko sa ngayon, ang gawing night-rated ang airport natin,” he said.

A check of the DOTr website showed that in 2018, during the term of then-House Transportation Committee chair Rep. Cesar V. Sarmiento, Virac headed the list of 17 other provincial airports proposed by the DOTr for night rating.

Equipping Virac airport with night-rating capabilities will allow it to accommodate flights even after sunset, which will help provide air commuters with other flight options. It would also assist in delivering relief goods in the aftermath of typhoons when the island is often isolated for days.

During bad weather and low visibility situations, commercial planes have been unable to locate Virac airport and are sometimes forced to turn back to Manila to the frustration of passengers on board and those waiting at the airport.

On the other hand, domestic flights departing Manila’s already crowded international airport are often crammed during the daytime, leading to delays in departure.

To make the island’s only airport even safer, it would have to be equipped with appropriate air navigation facilities like the Doppler VHF Omni-Directional Radio Range and Distance Measuring Equipment (DVOR/DME) or the Instrument Landing System (ILS).

A short-range radio navigation system for aircraft, the DVOR-DME projects a “beam” into all directions and helps pilots locate and land on the runway during bad weather and low visibility situations. It enables aircraft to determine its position and stay on course by receiving radio signals transmitted by a network of fixed ground radio beacons.

On the other hand, the ILS is a ground-based system that provides precision guidance to aircraft approaching and landing on a runway.

Currently, Virac Airport uses the NDB or Non-Directional Beacon, a ground-based, low-frequency radio transmitter widely used throughout the world as a cheaper and reliable instrument approach for airports and offshore platforms.

All a pilot has to do is to make sure the needle in the compass-like NDB dial in the plane’s instrument panel is pointed straight up to determine that the plane is flying right towards the airport’s NDB.

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