Friday, November 14, 2008

Cebu Pac barred from Ozamiz terminal

BUDGET CARRIER Cebu Pacific has started flying between Cebu and Ozamiz City in northern Mindanao thrice a week with the reopening of the Ozamiz airport after a 10-year closure.

The Gokongwei-owned airline is being barred, however, from using the airport's rehabilitated terminal building since it stands on property owned by rival carrier Philippine Airlines.

Because of this, Cebu Pacific has had to locate its terminal operations--like passenger check-in, pre-departure, and arrival services--under a tent adjacent to the newly refurbished passenger terminal, which is owned by the state-run Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).

At present, passengers waiting to board Cebu Pacific's Monday-Wednesday-Friday ATR 72 turboprop ferry flight between Cebu and Ozamiz sit on benches outside the airport's perimeter fence while waiting to board the aircraft.

"What we don't understand is why we're not being allowed to use a facility that was built using public funds," said Cebu Pacific vice president for commercial planning Alex Reyes.

Nonetheless, he expressed optimism about the potential of passenger traffic between both cities, given the traditional trade links of Cebu with Visayan-speaking residents of Ozamiz in Misamis Occidental.

Both inbound and outbound inaugural flights last Wednesday were fully booked, despite the conditions at the Ozamiz airport.

During ceremonies to mark the inaugural flight, Misamis Occidental governor Loreto Ocampos vowed to remedy the situation, saying that the current condition--where one airline uses a government facility and another uses makeshift tents--was unacceptable.

"What we will do is that [the provincial government] will just buy this property so that everyone can use it," he said in Visayan.

Ocampos pointed out, however, that the provincial government presently does not have the funds for such an undertaking, adding that he would ask President Macapagal-Arroyo for additional resources to boost the budget of the local government.

The CAAP expressed resignation over the issue, saying PAL's stand was affirmed by the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel.

"CAAP did not bar Cebu Pacific from using the Ozamiz terminal building, but they were made aware that CAAP sought the legal opinion of the OGCC on the legality of allowing them to occupy a space in the terminal building," the agency's legal chief Deo de Ocampo told the Inquirer.

"Records appear that the terminal building was constructed at the time when PAL was majority-owned by the government," he added. "PAL is claiming ownership over the terminal building based on legal principle. The accessory, terminal building, follows the principal, land."

Philippine Airlines' subsidiary Air Philippines operates flights between the city and Manila using a Boeing 737--a service that Cebu Pacific, so far, cannot match because the 1.8-kilometer runway of the Ozamiz airport is not designed to to handle the weight of an Airbus A320.

Philippine Airlines did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.

By Daxim Lucas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:59:00 11/13/2008

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