November 21, 2016
To: Balesin Members and Friends
I am in Balesin as I write this and so you will understand if I sound somewhat effusive in this update. This is what my beloved Balesin does to me!
They switched on the runway lights for the first time last night and I must tell you, I have never seen a more beautiful sight (see attached photos). As you know, we have spent a tidy sum to get the runway lights installed, but it will be a game changer for Balesin.
As you are all aware, since about the middle of this year, we have been limited by CAAP to two morning flights a day because of the congestion at NAIA. This was aggravated beginning August when we were allowed to fly only once and only very early in the morning and the airport was closed to General Aviation from noon until 7:00 pm. This constraint obviously made life difficult for our members because most weekends they could come only on Saturday morning and go back the next day Sunday, also in the morning. This made their stay in Balesin almost not worth it. Additionally, we could not confirm the flights until the night before the flight because CAAP could only confirm the schedules to us at 5:00 pm the day before. This made the situation even worse, and I understand why many members had to cancel flights or decided not to go at all.
Thus, a few months back, we started also flying out of Clark, but while this helped alleviate the problem especially for those who live in the northern part of Metro Manila and around Central Luzon, it was inconvenient for most of our members. Therefore, when we got the notice from CAAP about the noon to 7:00 pm “curfew” at NAIA in August, we decided to bite the bullet with what we felt was the only solution, i.e., to light up the Balesin runway for night flights.
This has several major advantages: we can have unlimited flights after 7:00 pm and thus make it easier for our members to enjoy Balesin on a weekend. One can leave Manila after work on a Friday night at 7:00 pm or even later (we plan two flights, 7:00 pm and then 8:30 pm), enjoy Friday night dinner at Balesin and the whole day Saturday and Sunday and then leave Balesin on Sunday evening back to Manila, and thus have a full and satisfying weekend.
Now, a word about night flights. I have been told that some are concerned about flying at night. But for me (I started flying in 1957 long before jet planes were around and must have logged over a million miles, both in small private aircraft and big jetliners, since then), night flights are in fact preferable, even safety-wise. Many pilots have told me that they would rather fly at night because the runway lights are much more visible and therefore easier to land the aircraft than during the day, especially when it is hazy or raining.
CAAP approved our night flight infrastructure last week and will make their final inspection on Wednesday, November 23. Thereafter, our aircraft and our pilots will be required to take several practice runs, landing at night on the island before finally getting approvals for the Balesin runway to operate as a 24-hour aerodrome.
At this juncture, I might mention that the newspapers yesterday reported that Boracay’s Caticlan airport is now open for A320s because the original runway, which was only 850 meters long, has now been doubled to 1,700 meters. Boracay doesn’t have runway lights, so there are no night flights. The Balesin runway is actually 1,530 meters, unfortunately just short of the 1,700 meters required by A320s. But many smaller jets have been landing on Balesin since day one without any problem.
The second major development is that we now have our AOC (Airline Operators Certificate). This means that we can apply for scheduled flights in the mornings and even during the curfew hours of the afternoon. We are in the process of finalizing the regulatory approvals for our scheduled AOC flights which we believe we can secure at the earliest by December 5, and at the latest before December 15. Thus, we believe that we can have scheduled flights (where you can confirm your booking) at least 5 times per day: 2 in the morning, 1 in the afternoon and 2 at night.
As I don’t want to again fall into the trap of forecasting regulatory approvals, we will send you as soon as possible the scheduled flights in early December once we have all the regulatory approvals in place. We are aware that you are now making your Christmas holiday plans and we want you to have this dependable schedule where we can confirm flights to and from Balesin during the holiday season and beyond.
You will also be interested to know that we are negotiating to acquire a second ATR72, also with a 68-passenger capacity. We hope to have this in service during the busy Christmas holidays, although the regulatory and contractual aspects may stretch beyond that. But we feel confident that we can get it flying sometime in January and this will be heaven-sent, because the first quarter of the year until Easter time and after the school term is over is always the busiest time at Balesin. Thus, by early next year, we feel confident that not only can we give confirmed flight schedules on a timely basis, but can also assure you that we can accept bookings of up to 500 or 600 passengers a day by flying our two ATR72s, our one Jetstream and our two Cessnas.
I am also happy to report to you that because of the rains last week (they stopped as soon as I got to the island and we have had beautiful sunshine during the past two days), our fresh water storage capacity had over a hundred thousand cubic meters in our five storage lagoons, which is sufficient to last us for one year without a single drop of rain!
I am also pleased to report that production of our fabulous Balesin Island crabs has now hit its stride and as of today, we have in fact about 600 of 1- to 2-kilo crabs available. Thus, running out of crabs will become a thing of the past. Our aim is to produce crabs at about a minimum of 2,000 a week and can even export some to Manila.
I want to end this update by just giving you a short comment about Baguio. Before going to Balesin, I spent a day in Baguio to evaluate the progress of our Baguio Mountain Lodges project. I don’t think that I would be exaggerating if I said that it is now clearly going to be a magnificent development. The entrance gateway, which is imposing but aesthetically attractive, has now been completed. We have re-routed and widened the main roads, and they are most impressive. The first 50 lodge pads have now been identified and marked.
During the Christmas holidays, those of you who go to Baguio can start to visit our Mountain Lodges development and will be able to appreciate its scale and its beauty.
As you know, we had suspended our site visits because of the messy construction during the past few rainy months. But the rains have now stopped, and we will now allow visits to the project site beginning the first week in December and all throughout the holiday season. Because we are expecting a flood of requests, we will not be allowing overnight stays, and we will have to require advance bookings, which you can do even now through Ms. Jojo Manalo at my office:
Mobile Nbr: +63918 918 6085
or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We will be accepting reservations for specific home site pads beginning January, when we will also start construction of the Clubhouse and the 5 model units which will be completed by Easter time.
Enough chatter about Balesin and Baguio—here are the photos!
That’s all for now folks!
ROBERTO V. ONGPIN
Balesin Runway Lights
Baguio Construction Progress