MANILA, Philippines - The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) is suspending all flights to the Tacloban airport, the main gateway to Leyte province, starting on Wednesday over "fast developing potholes" on the runway that airline operators said could damage their planes and compromise passenger safety.
Repairs will be undertaken on the runway of Daniel Romualdez Airport in Tacloban City to allow it to accommodate smaller turbo-propeller aircraft within the week but larger commercial jets are unlikely to use it for "months" as broader repairs are undertaken, a CAAP official said.
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Tacloban in January next year.
A statement on Monday showed that a notice to airmen indicated that the closure of Daniel Romualdez Airport would start on Sept. 3 and end at 6 a.m. on Sept. 4 "for turbo propeller aircraft only."
"Jets like Airbus A320 or Boeing B737 will resume flights thereat only after the total replacement of the five-inch asphalt on the whole runway is done," the CAAP said in the statement.
The CAAP chief financial officer, Rodante Joya, said in an interview that discussions were being undertaken with a contractor on the asphalt replacement.
Taking into account the rains, the process could run for several months, he said.
24 flights daily
Joya said the 2,100-meter runway of the Tacloban airport was serving 24 flights per day.
Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Air Asia Philippines and Tiger Air operate at the airport and have requested that they stop operating at the air gateway until repairs are carried out, he said.
Airline officials were not immediately available for comment. "The continuing deterioration of the runway surface must be addressed immediately for the safety of all aircraft landing in Tacloban," Joya said.
The rehabilitation is still ongoing at the airport's terminal and runway, which were severely damaged by Super Typhoon "Yolanda." The typhoon (international name: Haiyan) barreled through the country last November, killing thousands and damaging key infrastructure facilities.
All commercial flights to and from Tacloban will be affected by the airport closure, CAAP said.