Richer for a Day: Islands in the Philippines

In Canada and Alaska we not only fly to hunting, fishing, logging and mining camps but also to remote native communities. These small communities, built on the shores of lakes rivers or oceans  far from the economic centers of major city hubs, have no roads or airports and depend on transportation services from truckers braving frozen roads during the winter and bush pilots skimming the lakes and rivers in floatplanes during the summer. We call these air transportation services Bush Flying.

The British, however, have a formal name for bush flying – Air Transport Provisions for Remoter Regions. I never did figure out if “remoter” meant more remote than Hadrian’s Wall or more remote than London but all jokes aside Britain does have some very remote communities. The Orkney and Shetland Islands being the most northerly of these regions.

In Orkney there are at least 20 modern hotels, multiple excellent restaurants and a landscape filled with fascinating historic buildings and monuments built during the Viking times, and, most importantly, an airport. Along with several major car and passenger ferries, Kirkwall in Orkney is serviced by an airline that flies 6 times a day.

The islands, especially, in the summer are busy and thriving but it would not be this way without easy, quick and comfortable airline flights. It’s not cheap though. Flight costs run between $300 and $900 for a round trip ticket.

What’s a remote island in Britain or floatplanes in Northern Canada got to do with the Philippines? I was looking for a comparison. There a many remote islands in the Philippines, like many communities on lakes in northern Canada or on the ocean on the Alaskan or British Columbia West Coast, that have no airports. With no airport the obvious solution is seaplanes. With 7107 islands and only 89 airports there is lots of room for improvement.

So what do you look for when deciding if you should build an airport and start a air service to a remote community? Profitability to begin with. I am convinced a remote community can benefit from a regular air service but can they afford it?

The problem with comparisons between countries, however, is that governmental subsidies determined the affordability. Without the government chipping in by building roads, airports and port facilities and providing affordable fuel supplies the cost of running an air service to a remote community skyrocket. The higher the operational costs the higher the ticket costs and fewer tickets sold.

Next you look at the local population and figure out how many can afford to travel? That depends on the local economy. What is the industry? Is there governmental agencies, hospitals, banks, port facilities or other industrial businesses? How many of the population is employed? What is the local wages? Again… Can they afford to fly?

You also have to decide what outside visitors or tourists might be attracted to. Is there beach resorts, hotels, restaurants, car rentals, adventure tour operators, scuba dive shops or island hopping tourists boats? If not why would outside tourists or travellers bother to come?

But what if a remote community has none of these prerequisites for building an airport and running a connecting air service? What if the community is a collection of fishermen and subsistence farmers who can’t afford the $400 tickets?

Herein lies the problem. Local residents need easy and affordable transportation to the large city markets to sell their products whether it is fish, mangoes, cashews or coconuts. Without a larger market fisherman and farmers can’t catch or grow more than they need and can’t ever make a profit. No airport no growth.

Anyone who has visited the outer island in the Philippines, however, will discover that the locals have attractions that don’t have to be exported to have value. The Filipinos I meet on these remote islands glow with perseverance, cleverness, friendliness, helpfulness, willingness and most of all a sense of “true grit” that leaves me feeling richer after just having visited for a day.

I have worked in at least 14 different countries and I have discovered the Philippines as the most endearing and welcoming place I have ever been; especially the people living and thriving in the “remoter regions” of the island communities. I have to say, however, the people in the city are pretty cool too.

If you can sell friendliness and grit these little Filipino Island communities would thrive.

C208B EX Caravan Amphibian Seaplane on Wipaire 8750s

Seaplane in Palawan Philippines

Air Juan

Captain John S Goulet

About John S Goulet

Air Transport Pilot, consultant, writer, blogger and photographer with 45 years in Professional Aviation.
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