MY TWO CENTS: What happened to the Zamboanga- Sandakan flight?

Recent announcements of upgrades of many local airports to allow night take offs and landings are welcome news for “ provincial” travellers going to and from the capitals Manila and Cebu.

These developments not only spur more trade and tourism in these areas, but they also decongest Manila’s airport.

In particular, this will ease the often jampacked late afternoon landing and take off slots at Manila’s airport, since more flights will be moved later in the evening. This reduces delays as it distributes flight schedules more evenly throughout the 24 hour period. This also reduces passenger congestion and traffic at Manilas airports.

Of course in the last year there have been fewer delays due to “ air traffic congestion”, and if delays do come, they are well within a 30 minute window that most travelers tolerate anyway. Kudos to the CAAP for helping reduce flight delays.

Other developments are encouraging. The recent launch of Cagayan de Oro as a new hub of Cebu Pacific airlines has seen a radical increase in connectivity between the Visayas and Mindanao, what with direct flights now available between Davao, Cagayan de Oro and heretofore unconnected cities of Tacloban, Tagbilaran and Dumaguete.

Even Zamboanga will now have direct flights to Cagayan de Oro, giving businesses of both cities the chance to interact further.

Yet a disturbing development is the postponement of the previously announced direct Cebu Pacific flight between Zamboanga and Sandakan, Sabah Malaysia.

Hailed as a significant step towards greater connectivity between Mindanao and Malaysia as part of the Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Philippines (BIMP EAGA) growth area, this is a setback that should be sincerely examined by Malacanang, as it stymies efforts to jumpstart these vital connectivities and push inclusive growth deemed elusive for Mindanao.

An article in online magazine ( sums up the disappointment:

“High-placed sources tell us that this Sandakan-Zamboanga flight risks being canceled altogether due to bureaucratic irregularities preventing government agencies to put the right systems in place. Such obstacles for the flights to commence, according to them, were in fact simple ones that would have cost so little to surmount.

Should this cancellation drag on, the program to build better connectivity between Mindanao and its Malaysian and Indonesian neighbors will eventually be reversed.

This brings us to appraise the BIMP EAGA itself, long the pride of administrations from Ramos to Aquino, and to question whether or not the frontline agencies tasked with its implementation share the President’s enthusiasm for making this dream finally come true. “

It would be wise for all of us to ask the frontline agencies tasked with pushing BIMP EAGA programs why this happened. These are important questions to ask, especially after the much promoted Davao- Bitung Roro link seems to have stopped sailing regularly.