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NAIA-3 international flights to start August

THE NINOY AQUINO International Airport Passenger Terminal-3 (NAIA-3) will start serving international flights in August, months earlier than initially targetted.

Task Force NAIA-3 head Michael T. Defensor yesterday said flights to and from the country could be accommodated as early as August 8 after local carrier Cebu Pacific agreed to the move.

"[NAIA-3] can be used for international flights around August 8 ... They (Cebu Pacific) said they can use it in August," he said in Pilipino.

Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Alfonso G. Cusi declined to give a specific date, only saying the plan was for daily international flights "by the early part of August."

Next month the terminal will be ready to service 28 daily international flights of Cebu Pacific, he said.

"We have been talking to Cebu Pacific. Right now we are also talking to PAL (Philippine Airlines)," he said, adding that the flight destinations include Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, and Bangkok.

An official of Cebu Pacific, which began using NAIA-3 for select domestic flights on Tuesday, said the airline would be focusing for the moment on moving its entire domestic operations.

Candice A. Iyog, spokesperson for the Gokongwei-led low-cost carrier, said, "let’s do it one at a time. We haven’t even announced when we will be moving [the rest] of our domestic operations."

For international flights, the airline "should be able to move ... soon after," she said.

PAL officials were not immediately available for comment. The airline’s PAL Express and Air Philippines brands began using the terminal, also for select flights, yesterday.

Messrs. Cusi and Defensor, meanwhile, said full operations would be achieved early next year.

"Hopefully [the terminal] will be fully operational by February," Mr. Defensor said.

By this point, the terminal will be able to accommodate as much as 140 international and 220 domestic flights a day, he added.

"We are talking to other foreign airlines. They said they need six to eight months before they can move in. They said they would have to organize their offices," Mr. Cusi said.

Last month, officials said NAIA-3 would be open for international flights in six to nine months.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who inspected the facility yesterday, called NAIA-3 the "gateway to our country from the rest of the world."

"This is our showcase for tourism and economic progress. Today’s commercial opening is a result of our resolve and determination to move this nation forward," she said.

NAIA-3 has been dogged by controversy and the Supreme Court in 2002 voided the 1997 contract awarding the project to Philippine International Air Terminals Co.

Cases filed in the wake of the decision have yet to be settled, and the government was only able to take over the facility after paying Piatco an initial P3 billion in compensation. — with a report from Paolo Luis G. Montecillo

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