May 8, 2009
By Recto Mercene
SUGGESTION has been forwarded to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) to consider the temporary closure of Catarman Airport if the local government will not cooperate in enforcing an aviation rule prohibiting vehicles and people from using the runway for their various activities.
The proposal has been made by several aviation groups, saying that safety is always the paramount concern when it comes to airport operations.
It also came in the wake of the suspension of Cebu Pacific’s (CEB) four-times- weekly Manila-Catarman flight, after the air carrier had to abort several landings in the past owing to people and vehicles on the runway.
In an earlier incident, the landing of a Cebu Pacific ATR-72 turbo-prop plane at the airport in Legazpi City had to be aborted after a vehicle was found running around the runway.
Subsequent investigation showed that the son of the Legazpi airport manager was teaching his girlfriend to drive.
CAAP director general Ruben Ciron suspended the Legaspi airport chief.
Ciron said CAAP has sent five security personnel to Catarman to enforce the rule preventing residents from using the runway as playground, or crossing it willy-nilly aboard their cars, but to no avail.
A few years back, the then Air Transportation Office constructed a perimeter fence around the runway, but residents, whose houses sit cheek-by-jowl with the runway’s edge, have destroyed the infrastructure.
It was gathered that the residents were encouraged by the local government, which filed a petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop CAAP from enforcing the rule that forbids trespassing on the runway and its immediate environment.
A Catarman official said that since the TRO was filed, the runway has often been used by residents to congregate, treating it as a playground, a park and a lover’s lane, all rolled into one.
“At night, it becomes a convenient motel,” the Catarman official said, adding that the paved runway make for an ideal trysting place for lovers, because it is dark and has concrete pavement that makes parking easier.
Keeping the runway free of obstacles is an overriding concern of the CAAP, even if there are no longer regular scheduled flights in that airport.
In an incident some years ago, the pilot of a distressed light plane was forced to ditch in the sea after seeing people and vehicles on the Catarman airport’s runway. The pilot thought that the runway was a provincial road.
CAAP and CEB officials met on Tuesday to resolve the issue.
CEB officials asked Ciron to act decisively in enforcing security measure at the Catarman airport before a serious accident happens.
As a result, Ciron sent a team to Catarman to talk to local officials and convince the residents to avoid congregating on the runway, especially during daytime.
A short-term solution is the reconstruction of the perimeter fence, but funds for that project are not available.
Ciron said the long-term solution is to relocate the runway far from the town so that it would be inaccessible to those who wanted to use it for their personal pleasure.
Part of the runway abuts the Catarman National Park.
Although CEB suspended flights to Catarman, Philippine Airlines and Zest Air continue to fly there.