By Denise A. Valdez

THE Department of Transportation (DoTr) said local airlines have agreed to operate flights that utilize turboprop planes at the Danilo Atienza (Sangley) Air Base, as the government prepares to open the airport for more flights before the year ends.

“During the meeting, airlines agreed to use Sangley Airport for general aviation, freight turboprop operations, and commercial turboprop operations as soon as the infrastructure is in place,” the DoTr said in a statement after a meeting with aviation stakeholders on Thursday.

“Additionally, general aviation users will be notified to fully relocate in a year’s time to Clark International Airport (CRK) in Pampanga and Sangley Airport to help decongest the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA),” it added.

Cebu Pacific told BusinessWorld it had earlier this year expressed interest in using the air base in Sangley Point when it starts operating its freight turboprops.

“We formally wrote to the DoTr as early as March or April 2019 to operate cargo freighters out of Sangley,” Cebu Pacific Director for Corporate Communications Charo L. Lagamon said.

The Gokongwei-led carrier announced last year it is converting two of its ATR 72-500 passenger turboprops into freighter aircraft.

Philippines Airlines (PAL) was not able to immediately reply to questions on moving its turboprop operations to Sangley.

But in a phone call Wednesday, Transportation Undersecretary for Aviation Manuel Antonio L. Tamayo said the DoTr earlier received proposals from both Cebu Pacific and PAL regarding operating in Sangley.

“They are proposing — proposing pa lang and studying — possibility of moving some turboprop flights. Kasi right now Cebu Pacific and PAL, they operate out of Clark yung turboprop aircraft natin. They want to move some of their operations to Sangley, which will be closer to Manila,” he told BusinessWorld.

“Maybe turboprop flights for PAL Express, maybe they can move a number… I was made to understand Cebgo wants to move freighter operations, yung mga cargo nila, to Sangley. That is their proposal so far. And these are all proposals that we are studying,” he added.

But he noted the facility in Sangley could only handle some turboprop aircraft as it is still limited by the size of its runway, which is 2,300 x 45 meters.

“We keep accepting proposals like that, and we allow them to make their studies for commercial viability and feasibility study of the operations. We allow that, (for them to) come and visit to find out what can be done there,” Mr. Tamayo said.

Last Monday, President Rodrigo R. Duterte ordered the DoTr to immediately start operating the Sangley gateway for general aviation, or non-commercial flights, to help decongest NAIA.

The DoTr started 24/7 works in the gateway yesterday to expedite its completion.

Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade had ordered the hiring of additional manpower and acquisition of additional equipment to hasten works on the Sangley airport.

“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,” Mr. Tugade was quoted in the statement as saying on Wednesday.