THE Department of Transportation (DoTr) gathered airline operators Wednesday to sign a pledge of commitment supporting the government’s initiatives to decongest the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), particularly the development of Danilo Atienza Air Base in Sangley as an alternative gateway.

While Cebu Pacific said it is ready to fly its cargo freighters from Sangley once it opens, Philippine Airlines (PAL) and AirAsia Philippines said it may take time for them to use the runway at the former US naval facility.

“There are a lot of things that we need to study… Before…we moved our turboprops to Clark and Cebu. So at this point in time, I’m not sure if we still have some turboprops. What we would do is we will do some studies,” PAL Executive Vice-President and Officer-In-Charge Vivienne K. Tan said at the signing ceremony in Pasay City.

AirAsia Philippines President and Chief Executive Officer Dexter M. Comendador said the carrier’s aircraft are unable to fly out of Sangley because of the runway’s size limitations.

“We operate only Airbus A320s, so at the moment, we are not able to utilize Sangley. But in order to (help decongest NAIA)… we have bases outside Manila, particularly Cebu, Kalibo and Clark… We’re looking at Panglao, Puerto Princesa and Davao. Until Sangley is able to accommodate the jets, then we will consider moving our base to Sangley,” he said.

The DoTr has been developing the Sangley airport since May last year to improve its facilities to handle general aviation flights, or non-commercial flights that use lighter aircraft.

Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade said the 2,300-meter runway is already finished, and works on the drainage, passenger terminal and hangar are ongoing.

The target is to have the Sangley airport operational for general aviation flights and turboprops within the year. But Mr. Tugade is not closing the possibility of using the gateway for bigger aircraft in the future.

’Yung turboprop, sa umpisa ’yan. Titignan din natin na kung saan baka pwedeng gamitin later on at pwede nating tignan ang Airbus. Pahabain natin, kung merong pwede gawin sa runway para mag-Airbus [Operation for turboprops is just the beginning. We will also see if later on we may use Airbus. We could extend, or see what can be done on the runway to accommodate an Airbus],” Mr. Tugade said.

Cebu Pacific President and Chief Executive Officer Lance Y. Gokongwei noted once Sangley is built, the carrier “will be having our cargo turboprop flights there.”

Cebu Pacific is expecting to receive two of its ATR 72-500 passenger planes that were converted into freighter planes in August.

Aside from the three carriers, PAL Express and Cebgo also signed the pledge of commitment, together with the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) and Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA). — Denise A. Valdez