By Lily O Ramos

MANILA – The Department of Tourism (DOT) is extending its full support to the Caticlan airport expansion project which, upon completion, is expected to accommodate 1.2 million passengers annually from its present capacity of 700,000.

In 2009, Boracay received nearly 700,000 tourists from all over the country and the world.

“One of the world’s best beaches deserves a first-class airport. We join Boracay’s stakeholders in upholding this milestone as it aims to haul in a sizeable traffic of tourists and create more jobs for the people,” said Tourism Secretary Ace Durano.

The DOT and the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) were present at the project’s recent groundbreaking led by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The P2.507-billion build, operate and transfer (BOT) project granted to private consortium Caticlan International Airport Development Company (CIADC) began its first of three construction phases, which cover a total seven-year period.

The long-term infrastructure development includes addition of a second-level to the terminal building; upgrading of facilities such as the fire station, fencing and navigational aids; tapering of the bordering hill adjacent to the runway, lengthening and widening of the runway, installation of navigation and air traffic tower, and construction of a new 9,200-square-meter two-storey terminal building.

From 950 meters by 30 meters, the runway will be upgraded to 2,100 meters by 45 meters.

“The widening and lengthening of the runway will allow bigger aircrafts such as the Airbus to bring in more passengers straight to Caticlan,” said Durano.

The airport is currently limited to one-way landing or take-off for smaller planes due to the constricted landing strip.

Environmental issues raised against the development have been promptly addressed, according to Undersecretary Eduardo Jarque, Jr., Tourism Planning and Promotions.

“An environment compliance certificate (ECC) was issued already, four years prior to the project launch,” said Jarque.

The DOT declared that there will be no leveling or flattening of the hill involved in the runway expansion, but rather a tapering of the adjacent slope to ensure passenger safety during take-off.

“The slope reduction is necessary to avoid the abrupt degree of ascent for bigger planes. This proposal was preceded by a thorough Environmental Impact Assessment,” added Attorney Victoria Jasmin, DOT director for Office of Tourism Standards. (PNA)