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Finally, Skyjet in January

Capt. Ivanhoe Arcilla, whose shuttered ZestAir office will handle ticket sales for the new airline, said last Monday that Skyjet Airlines will finally fly the Philippine skies this December following the approval of its Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines.

The industry newcomer’s 94-seater British Aerospace BAe-146-200 will start its flights to Basco, Batanes on Dec. 14 on a thrice-weekly basis, to be followed by Virac flights in January, probably on the same frequency. It has the option to expand its fleet courtesy of Lionair which has two BAE146-200s, 72-seater BAe 146-100 aircraft, and a Dornier 328 jet. SkyJet has been quoted as promising first-class flying, including snacks and comfortable seats, at reasonable prices, with Virac flights estimated to cost about P3,000 one-way.

The same positive development, and the airline’s expression of gratitude, was communicated by Skyjet officials to Congressman Cesar Sarmiento, who had sought the assistance of CAB and CAAP officials in expediting the consideration of the airline’s application to fly to said routes, citing the reduction of Cebu Pacific flights to Virac that has inconvenienced travellers and businessmen.

The solon’s request for additional flights from Cebu Pacific, which had cut back its daily flights to just four a week, was politely declined by the airline.

In a letter to Sarmiento in late September, Maria Vida Stoifl, Cebu Pacific director for external affairs, cited several constraints in mounting additional flights to Virac: the reduced runway capacity of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and the fact that its ATR-72 planes are already fully utilized in its routes and any restoration of cancelled flights would begin with destinations other than Virac.

The airline official said it would be ideal if the Virac airport cannot accommodate a fully-loaded Airbus A320 jetplane which could be utilized in lieu of the smaller ATR-72. She sought the solon’s possible assistance in either the expansion of slots in Manila and in the possible upgrade of the runway and landing facilities in Virac.

By the way, I wonder what happened to the proposed US$3 million grant from the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) for the airport’s upgrading which was supposed to have been approved in principle.

During the visit of the KOICA team last February, the Korean technical personnel were apparently unimpressed due to the low passenger traffic at Virac airport but local officials told them to consider the virtually untapped potential of Catanduanes as a viable tourist destination.

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