Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Monday, February 08, 2010

SBMA: No rush to close Subic airport

SUBIC BAY FREE PORT—While the Subic Bay International Airport (SBIA) is losing money ever since Federal Express transferred its Asia One logistics hub from here to China in February last year, Subic authorities are still reluctant to close it down.

Armand Arreza, administrator and chief executive officer of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), said they are still evaluating its viability and exploring alternatives for the SBIA, which serves as a secondary airport and a main diversion terminal for the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila.

“There is no rush to close the airport,” Arreza told Subic locators in a recent meeting. “Actually, we are still marketing the airport and looking for other alternatives to make it useful.”

Arreza said among the options under consideration is turning part of the 200-hectare airport into a logistics area.

“If we convert 40 hectares of the airport’s 200-hectare area, then we can raise about $80 million,” Arreza said.

“This 40-hectare portion could serve as a logistics area, while the rest could be used for commercial development,” he added.

The SBIA grew from what was the Naval Air Station when Subic was still an American military base.

Built in the early years of the SBMA in the hope of servicing both passenger and cargo planes, the SBIA is equipped with a 2,728-meter runway, modern navigational systems, and a 10,000-square meter passenger terminal that could handle 700 passengers at any given time.
The airport can also take in 41 commercial aircraft, a capacity proven in the past few years when Taiwanese passenger planes were diverted to Subic after the island-nation was buffeted by typhoons.

Since 1996 until February last year, the Subic airport served as the Asia-Pacific hub of courier giant FedEx. But when FedEx planes flew out to China for good in 2009, the SBIA was largely relegated to serving as the base for training schools.

Meanwhile, the dream of having passenger airlines making connecting flights to Subic never really took off after some attempts by several firms.

According to SBMA records, aircraft movement in the Subic free port significantly dropped from 108,686 in 2008 when FedEx still operated out of Subic, to just 57,246 in 2009.

Similarly, passenger movement plummeted from 10,682 in 2008 to only 7,059 in 2009.

Arreza said that due to slow business, the airport has been missing out on its $20-million loan payments.

“Economically, it doesn’t make sense anymore to continue its operations,” Arreza said in a recent media briefing. “It doesn’t even break even anymore, as it did when FedEx was still here.”

Arreza said the planned conversion of part of the Subic airport is consistent with the SBMA expansion program, which was meant to address the limited commercial and industrial space in Subic’s controlled area.

“The trend now in Subic is to move out of the central business district, and even outside the traditional boundaries, the fenced-in portion,” Arreza said.

“We will now focus on developing significant infrastructure facilities in those areas in

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