KOTA KINABALU: Sabah needs to build a new airport or upgrade its existing facility sooner rather than later to serve the expected rise in number of visitors to the state.
A surge in tourism arrivals, both international and domestic, has seen the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) almost working to its full capacity last year.
The state clocked a record high of over 3.6 million tourists last year, bringing in at the same time tourism receipts worth RM7.7 billion.
Tourism officials feel the number will continue to grow and thus the need for a larger airport.
Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun said a decision needs to be made soon if the state wants to meet the demands of the growth without a hitch.
“If this trend continues, we will probably be working at maximum capacity very soon. This is a critical phase for us now.
“It’s very important to manage this issue. We can only grow in terms of tourism arrivals if our airport can cope with these arrivals. Last year, KKIA handled 7.9 million passengers,” he said.
KKIA is designed to handle only nine million passengers a year.
Speaking to reporters after his annual address to officers and staff under his ministry here today, Masidi said the state government had submitted several options for solutions to the federal government.
“One is to expand KKIA. This entails building an extra runway and the construction will reach up to the sea.
“Obviously, there are environmental issues to consider as this definitely involves reclamation, which we’ve tried to avoid since before. But a study will be done to see if it’s viable,” he said.
“The other is building a new airport altogether.
“One of the locations mentioned was Kimanis (45km from KK) but that was a while back. Now some villagers have cleared portions of the land and built dwellings on the proposed site,” Masidi said.
“All options are being considered now. Hopefully, the government will decide on the best option soon, whichever is practical and viable.”
Presently, KKIA, which is the nation’s second busiest airport after Kuala Lumpur, handles 186 international flights every week, with 86 of them from China. It also handles 410 domestic flights a week.
Masidi said it was imperative for the issue to be addressed now instead of waiting for it to be a full-blown problem.
“If you ask me about the timeline, I want it to be done as soon as possible. We shouldn’t wait until we have a real problem on our hands. This is where I hope Malaysia can learn from other countries.
“We need to have good planning and vision,” he said, adding tourism officials might need to divert flights to the east coast districts of Sandakan and Tawau when work on the airport begins.
“In fact, my ministry and the Sabah Tourism Board have been trying hard to push tourists to the east coast.
“I believe over time, as the concern of security becomes more manageable, we should be able to push them directly there,” he said, adding the Sandakan airport is being extended to cater for larger planes.