Iloilo International Airport (Filipino: Paliparang Pandaigdig ng Iloilo, Hiligaynon: Internasyonal nga Hulugpaan sang Iloilo) is the international airport serving the general area of Iloilo City, the capital city of the province of Iloilo and the regional center of the Western Visayas region in the Philippines. It opened its doors to commercial traffic on June 14, 2007 after a decade of planning and construction, replacing Mandurriao Airport in Iloilo City proper which had been in service for over seventy years and inheriting its IATA and ICAO airport codes, as well as its position as the fourth-busiest airport in the Philippines. It is designated as a secondary international airport by the Air Transportation Office, the primary body of the Department of Transportation and Communications responsible for the operation of all airports in the Philippines. Likewise, being the first international airport in Western Visayas and the first international airport built on the island of Panay, it is one of three international airports in the Visayas; the others being Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Cebu City and Bacolod-Silay City International Airport in Bacolod City.
The airport is located northwest of Iloilo City on a site in Barangay Duyan-Duyan, split between the municipalities of Cabatuan, where the airport proper is located, and Santa Barbara, where the airport entrance and access road are located. The airport complex consists of a single runway, various administrative and maintenance buildings, waste sorting and water treatment facilities, a power generating station, a cargo terminal and a main passenger terminal. Its location on the Tomas Confesor Highway, a major highway transversing the island, makes the airport accessible from all parts of Iloilo and Panay via various road-based transportation options, while its proximity near the currently defunct Panay Railways network could potentially link the airport to the rest of Panay by rail.
Built in slightly over 30 months, Iloilo International Airport is the largest airport to be constructed in the Philippines in the last decade. It is also said to be the most beautiful and modern airport in the country and a symbol of the Philippines' new-found economic strength.
Planning for the Iloilo International Airport project commenced in 1997, when the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) initiated a study on the master planning and long-term development plans of four key domestic airports in the Philippines. The report cited Mandurriao Airport, Bacolod City Domestic Airport, Legazpi Airport and Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport in Tacloban City as these key domestic airports, noting the high growth of passenger and cargo volume there and the eventual need for expansion. Heeding the recommendations of the JICA report, President Joseph Estrada signed an executive order in November 1998 creating the Iloilo Airport Coordinating Committee, headed by Iloilo-born senator Franklin Drilon, one of the chief architects and supporters of the project. The project was approved by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) in March 2000.
The Iloilo International Airport project was inaugurated by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on January 25, 2004 in Cabatuan, the primary site of the airport. The airport project was funded with a 6.2-billion peso (US$112 million) loan as part of a package provided by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. It was decided that a new airport was needed for Iloilo City as Mandurriao Airport was deemed unexpandable due to operational obstacles and the presence of neighboring structures, such as slums and other natural and civic structures.
The selection of Cabatuan and Santa Barbara as the locations for the airport complex was done in a study performed by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and the JICA.
Physical construction work on the new airport started on April 14, 2004. The original expected deadline of completion was June 2007, although this was moved to the first quarter of 2007. A joint venture between the Taisei Corporation and the Shimizu Corporation of Japan served as the contractor for the project, with Phil-Japan Airport Consultants, Inc. managing the project and serving as the government's consultant to the project. The project was 75 percent complete as of July 14, 2006 and fully complete by March 18, 2007. While construction was completed ahead of schedule, the airport was constructed over budget, with a final cost of around 8.8 billion pesos ($201 million) caused by increases in the cost of civil works and consultancy services.
The first proposal, Iloilo International Airport, refers to the original name of the airport which had the support of the Iloilo provincial government and the Iloilo city government. The second, Panay International Airport, was proposed by the President and supported by the Regional Development Council for Western Visayas (RDC) led by Antique governor Salvacion Perez, while the third, Graciano Lopez-Jaena International Airport, named after the Iloilo-born Graciano López Jaena, was proposed by the Dr. Graciano Lopez-Jaena Foundation with the support of the RDC and Antique governor Perez, who is also a member of the foundation. The name was also endorsed by the National Historical Institute.
Out of the three proposals, the name Panay International Airport was dropped due to opposition by the Iloilo city and provincial governments, the mayor of Cabatuan and Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, all citing that it is illogical to rename an airport after an island as large as Panay. Prospects for Graciano Lopez-Jaena International Airport are better, with Iloilo governor Niel Tupas saying that the feasibility of renaming the airport after López Jaena or any other Ilonggo should be studied first.
Local newspaper The News Today issued an informal survey asking Iloilo City residents what should be the name of the airport and why. While the survey is considered non-scientific, a plurality of the nineteen respondents suggested that the name be kept as Iloilo International Airport. Despite the debate over the name of the airport complex, the name still remains as such.
The airport was formally opened on June 13 with the arrival of the presidential aircraft at the new airport at around 9:50 am PST, with Governor Tupas leading provincial and city officials in welcoming the President to the new facility. The inauguration of the new airport also included figures such as Japanese ambassador Ryuchiro Yamazaki and Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza, who assisted the President in leading the inaugural rites. The facility itself was formally commissioned at 5:00 am PST on June 14, coinciding with the simultaneous decommissioning of Mandurriao Airport. The first commercial flight to land at the new airport was Philippine Airlines Flight 139, an Airbus A320 that departed from Ninoy Aquino International Airport and landed at 6:20 am PST the same day.
Operations on the first day of the airport's commercial operation ran smoothly, although a baggage conveyor belt and x-ray machines malfunctioned due to a sudden surge in passengers trying to catch their early morning flights. Tension also marred the airport's first day after baggage porters who worked at the old Mandurriao Airport insisted on working at the new airport. The ATO, DOTC and the porters have since agreed to a closed-door conference and later on to refer the problem to DOTC Assistant Secretary Red Kapunan, the person in charge of international airports in the Philippines.
The terminal is equipped with six x-ray machines, as well as escalators and staircases for departing and arriving passengers' use. There are also two elevators, one for very important persons and one for disabled passengers. Two pocket gardens have been installed at the terminal, one each for both the departure and arrival halls. The building also features ten modern check-in counters with LCD monitors. The terminal makes extensive use of natural lighting, making the airport very energy efficient. Other amenities available to passengers include a special smoking room, a VIP lounge, a Mabuhay Lounge for Philippine Airlines business class passengers and counters for hotel and car rental bookings, as well as areas for airport stores and payphones.
The airport has a power back-up system and a power generating station that enables the airport to run even in the event of a power outage, returning the supply of electric power to the facility within three seconds. Likewise, the airport has water treatment facilities and a man-made pond used for flood control and drainage purposes as well as for the irrigation of nearby farmland. A waste treatment and sorting facility on the airport grounds also converts solid waste into fertilizer for the use of surrounding farms.
The following airlines serve Iloilo International Airport:
As of 2008, no airline is operating international routes to and from Iloilo. The ATO believes that international flights out of and to the airport might not begin until 2008, although international passenger flights could commence once Iloilo International Airport meets ICAO standards. A study is currently being conducted on the feasibility of the airport serving international flights.
The DOTC plans to stage international cargo flights out of the airport as sixty percent of Philippine seafood exports come from Panay. Both Japan and Hong Kong are slated as the first destinations of these cargo flights.
On January 31, 2008, the Iloilo city government announced that Cebu Pacific was considering starting international services from Iloilo, initially with a route to Hong Kong to cater to the large number of Overseas Filipinos there. Philippine Airlines later announced its intent to serve this route as well, suggesting that Iloilo tourism authorities mount thrice-weekly charter flights to the city using PAL Airbus A320 aircraft. City government officials also believe that the opening of a Cathay Pacific office in Iloilo City may bid well for future service to Hong Kong. In addition to Hong Kong flights, a think tank group, the Center for Research and Communication of the University of Asia and the Pacific, has called for flights to Japan, South Korea and mainland China out of the city.
PAL subsidiary PAL Express is also considering a direct route from Iloilo to Malay to boost Boracay-bound tourism traffic. A resolution passed by the Iloilo City Local Development Council (ICLDC) called on PAL president Jaime Bautista to institute direct flights to Malay from Iloilo, with onward service to Cebu City on the return portion from Malay. However, PAL has questioned the route's feasibility, citing congestion at Godofredo P. Ramos Airport which serves that municipality.
Iloilo International Airport is connected to Iloilo City proper via the Tomas Confesor Highway. At Bangga Gama in Santa Barbara, a bypass branches from the highway, leading to a long, wide access road which links the airport complex to the highway. The access road is wide enough to be able to accommodate four lanes of traffic. The estimated travel time to the airport from Iloilo City proper is around thirty minutes.
Taxi service is available to the airport from Iloilo City proper, with the average fare from Jaro Plaza in downtown Iloilo City costing around 163 pesos ($3.90) as of 2007. Taxi operators though have filed a petition with the LTFRB to increase airport rates by 150 pesos, a move opposed by Governor Tupas as it would make taxi fares to the airport the most expensive out of any route going to an airport in the Philippines, as well as hurt the tourism industry.
Iloilo International Airport is also accessible via jeepney to Santa Barbara town proper, after which travelers may take a share taxi to the airport. Travelers may also take jeepneys en route to Cabatuan, Calinog or Janiuay, all of which stop at Santa Barbara.