BORACAY, Aklan—President Benigno Aquino III on Saturday led the inauguration of the first phase of the improved Godofredo P. Ramos Airport in Barangay (village) Caticlan, Aklan, the gateway to the world-famous island resort of Boracay.
The President admitted that he had never actually been to the country’s most popular tourist destination. He took a helicopter to Boracay for lunch with officials at one of the resorts but declined an invitation to relax for a night there, saying he had to hurry back to Manila to check on the flooding spawned by Tropical Depression “Falcon”.
“At long last I have personally seen the island of Boracay. Before, I’d only seen it in pictures of my mother (the late former President Corazon Aquino) who came to visit about 24 years ago,” President Aquino said in his speech during the inauguration of the refurbished airport.
The development of the airport, which is expected to boost tourism, is being undertaken by the San Miguel Corp.(SMC)-owned TransAire Development Holdings Inc. under a build operate-transfer (BOT) plan with a 25-year concession period, renewable for another 25 years.
First private regional airport
It will be the first privately operated regional airport in the country.
Ramon Ang, SMC president and chief executive officer, told reporters that the total cost of the project would be around P12.9 billion ($300 million) and it is expected to be finished in two years.
The airport now also boasts a new air-conditioned terminal, with new X-ray scanners, computerized check-in counters and a high-tech baggage carousel. It also has an ambulance and a firetruck of its own.
Mr. Aquino said he expects three million tourists a year to visit Boracay when the expansion, which includes night landing facilities, is completed in 2015.
The project involves the development and expansion of the existing airport, including improvement of the terminal building, extension of the runway, widening of landing facilities, and the construction of a new passenger building.
Night landing facilities
Mr. Aquino said the installation of night landing facilities will likely boost traffic by 30 percent. The airport currently caters to at least four airlines with from 30 to 50 incoming and outgoing flights daily.
A 5,000-room hotel, a 25,000-seat convention center and a shopping mall are also planned for the airport complex.
“This is a big boost for Boracay and Aklan because more and bigger planes can land here,” Aklan Governor Carlilto Marquez told reporters on the sidelines of the inauguration ceremony.
Marquez said Boracay currently draws about 700,000 visitors annually and that he expects this to climb to one million by 2013.
Mr. Aquino said the Caticlan airport was a concrete example of the good results of the partnership between the government and the private sector.
He said the government would also be inviting bids for the development of the airports in Bohol, Daraga and Puerto Princesa—also popular tourist destinations.
In a lighter vein, President Aquino said he looked forward to a vacation in Boracay in 2016, after the end of his term.
“If we book now, can I go on vacation in 2016? Will the discount be substantial if I book now?” he said.