Thursday, June 29, 2006

Laguindingan Town In Misamis Oriental Is Best Site For New Airport In Northern Mindanao

Proposed airport in Laguindingan town in Misamis Oriental province.

LAGUINGINDAN, MISAMIS ORIENTAL (Mike Banos / 29 Jun) The Laguindingan site is not only the best but also the only site available on which airport facilities can be developed to adequately meet the objective of improved, international standard air service for Northern Mindanao, including the Cagayan de Oro-Iligan Corridor (CIC).

Steven Doerr, senior airport engineer for Louis Berger International, Inc. (LBII) the consulting firm which conducted the feasibility study, master plan, initial geotechnical investigations and environmental impact study for the Laguindingan Airport in 1991, said in a report that geotechnical considerations should not inhibit the development of the Laguindingan Airport Development Project (LADP).

Doerr said detailed surveys of the proposed site should be undertaken, and would in any event need to be undertaken, during or before the design phase of the project. He added that the LADP site is the best available site and should be developed due to terrain and other operational constraints at the present Cagayan de Oro Airport in Lumbia, Cagayan de Oro City.

Lumbia airport's operational capability can't be improved due to its surrounding high terrain which exceeds ICAO-recommended standards. Lengthening the runway would not affect these constraints.

Pending the results of further surveys, Doerr said it is likely that these concerns could be addressed in the design of the airfield pavements.

Since new airport facilities at Laguindingan would provide more efficient, unlimited operations at a higher level of service than an upgraded Lumbia airport, he recommended that further investigations/evaluations should be performed and that the LADP proceed.

Doerr said that at the time of the study in 1991, LBII recommended that detailed surveys and seismic testing be made to locate and evaluate the influence of underground caves and cavities on the design of airport facilities.

Such a study could also take into consideration lessons learned from the construction of the Mactan Airport which has similar soil characteristics as the Laguindingan airport site.

Doerr added that while LBII agrees that there are geotechnical concerns which must be evaluated and addressed, it should be stressed, however, that these concerns do not preclude the development of airport facilities at the Laguindingan site.

Given that the Laguindingan site, in the opinion of the Engineer, not only was the best site but the only site available on which airport facilities could be developed to adequately meet the objective of improved, international standard air service for the region, it was felt that the extent of any possible subsurface problems should be determined and that they could be economically compensated for in the design of the airfield pavements, Doerr's report said.

Another issue which continues to be brought up against the Laguindingan Airport project is that there's no need to invest in a new airport since the present Lumbia airport can be upgraded to handle wide-body jets which are now the standard for long-haul, international flights.

Doerr reiterated the previous findings of LBII that the development of Lumbia Airport as an alternative to a new CIC airport cannot be considered to provide "international standard airport facilities to meet commercial air transport needs," as required by the LADP's Terms of Reference.

While noting that the Lumbia airport can handle the forecast passenger traffic in the medium-term, operationally, night flights or wide-body aircraft operations is impossible and efficient, low-cost cargo operations would be limited.

Doerr noted that general air operations in the Lumbia airport vicinity are restricted by high terrain, with only very limited maneuvering possible south of the airport.

The key constraint in terms of aircraft take-off performance is the high terrain approximately 2,500 meters south of the airport. This piece of land is approximately 70 meters above the runway elevation, which exceeds ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) standards for the inner approach slope.

According to Philippine Airlines (PAL), this obstacle results in a six ton weight penalty for B737s on departures to the south.

Considering how Lumbia has already been missing out on high value fruit and vegetable shipments that are now shipped through Davao airport due to the bigger cargo capacities of the aircraft operating there, this becomes a very significant constraint on the further development of the fresh fruits and vegetable industry in Northern Mindanao.

The high terrain also affects instrument flight operations. Even with the existence of navigational aids such as the VOR/DME and ILS (Instrument Landing System), PAL restricts low-visibility operations because of the terrain's effect on missed approach and circling operations.

Even at the time of the study in 1991, PAL believed that navigational aids and instrument procedures would not significantly improve the reliability of commercial air service at the Lumbia airport. PAL also indicated they would not assign wide-body aircraft to the Lumbia airport because of the terrain constraints in the airport vicinity.

Doerr noted that this represents an important limitation on Lumbia airport because as passenger levels grow, larger aircraft with lower average cost per seat-kilometer become more economical to operate.

Because of terrain constraints, Doerr said the Lumbia airport has permanent constraints related to 1) range of potential operational procedures; 2) installation of improved instrument procedures, and resulting enhancement of safety and adverse weather operational capacity; 3) operations by larger, more efficient aircraft; and 4) night and adverse weather operating restrictions.

Doerr also noted that while runway extensions for the airport have been proposed and programmed in the past, "it should be noted that such extensions would neither significantly reduce existing operational constraints at the Lumbia airport nor enhance its operational capacity."

In contrast, the operation of the proposed international standard Laguindingan Airport will result to major economic benefits resulting from improved airport operational capabilities, including: a) potential for wide-body jet operations, potential for night commercial flights, instrument operations for both approaches and improved capability for commercial operations during adverse weather conditions.

Doerr said Lumbia airport's operational capability in these respects cannot be improved due to the surrounding high terrain in excess of ICAO-recommended standards. Lengthening the runway would not affect these constraints.

On the other hand, the Laguindingan Airport can accommodate night flights. Due to its location near sea level it is anticipated that weather-related cancellations would decrease over those currently suffered at Lumbia.

Even with the ILS operational, it only serves the south approach and cannot bring in aircraft coming from the opposite direction during adverse weather conditions.
Larger, more comfortable and more economical wide-body aircraft could be accommodated in Laguindingan, and these would make significant amounts of reliable cargo space available to local shippers. Some 75% of all cargo shipped through the Lumbia airport are perishable agricultural products.

In summary, significant benefits can be realized with the development of new airport facilities at Laguindingan which will not be available to an upgraded Lumbia airport. (The author was actively involved in the planning for the Laguindingan Airport in 1995-1997 when he was planning officer for the Cagayan de Oro-Iligan Corridor Project Management Office, of which the CIC Airport is a top priority infrastructure project.)

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