Widespread damage caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Central Visayas Islands in the Philippines on November 8 included the virtual destruction of Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport (DZRA) in Tacloban, capital of Leyte province.
Leyte bore the brunt of Haiyan’s fury, including a 194-mph gust of wind and 23-foot-high waves. There were no aircraft parked at DZRA when Haiyan struck, but the airport’s control tower, instrument landing system and passenger terminal all suffered severe damage, paralyzing commercial operations.
The airport, which handled 18 domestic flights daily before the disaster, now hosts humanitarian flights restricted to C-130 and ATR turboprops delivering relief supplies and limited Airbus A320 service by Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines Express, cleared for operation to shuttle stranded passengers and relief workers.
Tacloban airport served as the gateway from Manila and Cebu to the eastern Visayas.
Other airports ordered closed by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) as a precautionary measure before Haiyan landed included Ilolio Cabatuan International Airport, Romblon Airport, Legaspi Airport, Caticlan Airport, Bacolod Airport, Dumaguete Airport and Surigao Airport. Kalibo Airport, Busuanga Airport and Roxas Airport resumed operations on November 11.
Airlines did not escape unscathed. With several airports closed, Zest Air, Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Air Asia Philippines and Philippine Express all scaled down domestic flights over the past several days. To compensate for the removal of Tacloban from their networks, the airlines plan to increase frequencies on the Manila-Cebu and Bacolod-Cebu routes at a later stage. Cebu lies two hours away from Tacloban by ferry.
The director general of the CAAP, William Hotchkiss, could offer no indication when DZRA will resume scheduled operations, if ever.
The CAAP needs an estimated $50 million for the reconstruction of the control tower and acquisition and installation of the necessary communications equipment. Rebuilding the terminal and the runway represents added costs.
But rebuilding the airport does not stand as an immediate priority of the government in the aftermath of the destruction of Leyte, where 10,000 people in the province perished. The 24th typhoon to land in the Philippines this year and the most powerful ever recorded, Haiyan has either displaced or affected 4 million people in Central Visayas.
The Philippines consists of 7,000 islands, situated in the middle of the most storm-prone area in the region. The archipelago also lies in the so-called ring of fire, constantly threatened with earthquakes and volcano eruptions.
Half of the population of 95 million live on less than one dollar a day.
The Philippines has 45 airports, the approaches to most of which track over the sea. Built in 1962, DZRA was slated for refurbishment and expansion twice, once in 1998 and again last month, but authorities withdrew funding on both occasions for reasons known only to the Department of Transportation and Communications in Manila.