May 6, 2009
Catarman—Low Cost airline Cebu Pacific (CEB) announced that they will suspend its four-times weekly Manila-Catarman service starting May 9 because of unresolved runway incursions at the provincial airport, but other operators are unperturbed by safety issues as they intend to continue serving its flights there. Catarman is the capital of Northern Samar province.
“Since we started operations last February there had been three runway incursions by both people and vehicles. Since these incidents remain unresolved despite our repeated request for action by government agencies we have decided to suspend our flights to Catarman in the interest of passenger safety,” says Candice Iyog, vice president for marketing and distribution, for Cebu Pacific. She said further that the Catarman operations would resume soon if flight safety were assured and if the runway were properly secured for commercial operations.
But airport manager Dante Lulu admitted that they are having hard time preventing residents and vehicles from passing through the airport's runway, hinting that the best possible and only reasonable remedy would be regulating access to the runway when in used because closing it will just make matter even worst. A regulated access is better than sealing it off altogether because residents keep on destroying the fence for a short cut route going to town.
"We set up security fences close to residential areas but people tore it down. We’ve been asking for help from the local government units both in the municipal and barangay levels," Mr. Lulu said. However, due to political considerations nothing happened.
Merla Negradas, Eastern Visayas area manager of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, said that they are aware of the problem and closing the runway to public use may not be the best solution now although ideally it should be the case.
The solution would have been the opening of new circumferential road but the local government is plagued with right of way problem. And even if its open, residents would likely continue using the runway as shortcut because its the nearest point going to the town.
To remedy the deficiency, more security guards were hired by the agency recently to secure the runway particularly its road crossing says Negradas.
"From only four, we have added five security personnel to secure the runway. It’s not even enough but due to budgetary constraint we have to maximize our resources, and some of them have to be in the terminal building during arrival and departure time to secure the area, but we are fairly managing it well" said Negradas.
Philippine Airlines low cost arm PAL Express which flies daily to the airport and Zest Airways are aware of the safety issues but recognized the peculiar limitation of the airport on the right of way issues and closing it may not be the best option for now as the road crossing is the only link on the community opposite side of the runway.
As safety precaution airport tower usually sounds the alarm for incoming and outgoing aircraft to notify pedestrians of the incoming traffic.