Need for Penang airport expansion getting critical, says CM

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GEORGE TOWN: The Penang International Airport, which has recently seen high arrival figures, needs to be urgently expanded as a matter of “national importance”, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said today.

He said the federal government should consider enlarging the infrastructure in light of a 26% growth rate in arrivals in the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year.

He said the airport located in Bayan Lepas on the southern part of Penang island is the second busiest airport in the country after the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, having recorded 6.2 million arrivals last year.

The airport’s current design only allows for 6.5 million passengers up to 2020, he added.

“It is critical, at the rate things are going. We are working very hard to promote Malaysia’s tourism. We are seeing results and responses (from visitors),” he said at a press conference at his office in Komtar here.

“The federal government must look at this from a national perspective by approving the expansion.”

Last November, Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai had said a request for the expansion could not be considered due to “allocation constraints experienced by the federal government”.

This was despite the ministry having applied to the Economic Planning Unit in the Prime Minister’s Department for funds to expand the airport through the second rolling plan in Budget 2017.

It has been reported that the scope of work in the application was for acquisition of 50ha of land, increasing the size of the terminal to accommodate an annual capacity of up to 11.5 million passengers, more aprons for aeroplanes and expansion of cargo facilities.

Lim said if the government wanted to build a second runway, it can be done through reclamation at the adjacent coastline.

“The question is not whether we can do it or not. There has been some communication, but we are hoping there is more action instead of talk.”

The airport was last upgraded in 2012 with niggling construction issues at a cost of RM250 million borne by the federal government. It can now cope with up to 6.5 million passengers.

Prior to that, it had been upgraded in 2001 to accommodate five million passengers.

On Monday, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced in Sabah that the government had allocated RM80 million for the Sandakan Airport runway extension which will get under way by the middle of this year.

He said the decision to undertake the project was not scheduled in the 11th Malaysia Plan, and was made based on his meeting with local tourism industry players during his walkabout at Harbour Square Sandakan on March 3.

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