THE Department of Transportation (DoTr) is scrambling to complete upgrades to the Danilo Atienza Air Base on Sangley Point after President Rodrigo R. Duterte ordered the immediate use of the facility for general aviation to help decongest the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

In a statement Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade called for 24/7 construction at the former US naval facility in Cavite beginning today, and ordered the hiring of additional manpower and acquisition of additional equipment.

“Whatever it takes, we need to make sure that the directive of the President is delivered. Hire more manpower to work 24/7. Kailangan matapos ‘yan [It needs to be completed] on or before the timeline set by President Duterte,” he was quoted in the statement as saying.

At a Cabinet meeting Monday night, Mr. Duterte expressed concern over the congestion at NAIA after visiting the Manila gateway on the same day, and ordered the DoTr to start immediate operations at Sangley for general aviation flights.

General aviation refers to a category of aircraft lighter than commercial passenger jets. They encompass charter, corporate, military and pilot training flights.

According to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, an average of 3,000 general aviation flights depart NAIA every month. The DoTr has been developing Sangley to accommodate such flights.

Transportation Undersecretary for Aviation Manuel Antonio L. Tamayo said once Sangley opens for general aviation, it will “effectively be a third runway for Manila.”

In a phone call with BusinessWorld Wednesday, he said the original timeline of the DoTr was to open Sangley for general aviation by March 2020, which was moved to December 2019. Upgrades will need to be further accelerated to meet the President’s directive.

“Our plan is December. The original one was March next year. We moved it to December, pero ang directive ni [but the directive of the] President within four months, so sometime October,” he said.

Yung December kayang-kaya [December is definite]. October, we’ll have to work 24/7. It’s best efforts for us,” he added.

He noted one of the challenges for the DoTr is the rainy season, which may obstruct construction if flooding happens at the location.

“Our main problem there is the rainy season… aside from the runway, the potential problem we need to address is flooding. Especially since area which we are developing [is] almost sea level… So we’re fixing the drainage system, we put in a pump to pump out the water,” Mr. Tamayo said.

He noted the DoTr will do “everything possible” to follow the President’s timeline.