Conglomerate Aboitiz Equity Ventures Inc. said its unit won a coveted original proponent status to operate and further develop the New Bohol International Airport, which is scheduled to open around October this year.

The offer was submitted by Aboitiz InfraCapital, which is seeking to operate and maintain the airport and handle its future expansion. Other details were not provided while a company spokesperson was unable to release additional information.

The new airport, located on Panglao Island, is intended to replace the current airport in Tagbilaran City, which is currently serving under one million passengers a year. AIC’s offer is a bet on Bohol’s future prospects, given that the new gateway has a larger capacity.

“In line with AIC’s commitment to support the Philippine government’s efforts in advancing infrastructure within the country, we look forward to moving ahead with our proposal to provide a long-term solution for the operations, maintenance and future expansions of the New Bohol Airport. Our vision is to transform the New Bohol Airport into a prime example of excellence and efficiency for regional gateways,” Sabin M. Aboitiz, AIC president and CEO, said in the statement.

AIC would still need to bag the final approval of the board of the National Economic and Development Authority, which is chaired by President Duterte. An original proponent status, however, would give it a big advantage in the mandated Swiss challenge process.

The Cebu-based Aboitiz Group, which is also part of a consortium of seven conglomerates seeking to modernize and operate Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport, has long eyed a stake in the country’s provincial airports.

It was among the companies that were prequalified to participate in the Aquino administration’s tender for regional airports, a Public-Private Partnership project. When the PPP project was scrapped under President Duterte, AIC shifted gears. On March 7, it offered to expand and operate the airports in Iloilo, Bacolod, Laguindingan and New Bohol. Its offer involved a P148-billion investment and a 35-year concession.

That offer, alongside another proposal made by the group of businessman Dennis Uy, chair of Udenna Corp., was rejected by the Department of Transportation. The reason was that the DOTr preferred that airport projects be bid out individually instead of being bundled together.

As AIC targeted the New Bohol Airport, Udenna sought to focus on the Davao International Airport. Ruben Reinoso, undersecretary for planning at the DOTr, said on Friday that Udenna’s offer was still under evaluation by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines.

By: Miguel R. Camus – @inquirerdotnet