Penang businesses wary over Kulim airport

Some businesses in Penang say it makes little sense to have another airport so close to the Penang International Airport in Bayan Lepas.

GEORGE TOWN: The business community in Penang is wary of neighbouring Kedah’s plan to build a new international airport in Kulim, questioning its effectiveness and impact on the economy in the long run.

This follows the announcement by the Kedah government that it had obtained approval from the federal government to build the airport using funds from the private sector.

Penang Chinese Chambers of Commerce vice-president Finn Choong Khuat Seng questioned the airport’s location, saying it made little sense to build another airport so close to the Penang International Airport in Bayan Lepas.

Noting that Kulim was just 30km away from the Penang airport, he said Kedah should instead refer to the plan mooted under the Indonesia–Malaysia–Thailand Growth Triangle where it was proposed that an international airport be built in the Bukit Kayu Hitam area.

He said the area was chosen due to its proximity to Medan, southern Thailand and the largely unserved Perlis and northern reaches of Kedah.

The Penang Indian Chambers of Commerce agreed, with its president N Gobalakrishnan saying any new airport in Kedah should be more than 100km away to prevent an overlap of services.

Penang Chinese Chambers of Commerce vice-president Finn Choong Khuat Seng (left) with executive adviser Choot Ewe Seng.

He voiced concern that an airport in Kulim would cause newer businesses to abandon Penang as property value and the cost of doing business is lower in Kulim.

Although more matured businesses would likely stay on in Penang, he said, the federal government should justify the need for the Kulim airport.

He also questioned the purpose of the airport, saying there might not be much pushback from Penang businesses if it is purely for cargo purposes.

“But Kedah must clarify whether the industries in Kulim will use the new airport for cargo or freight.

“If there is no demand, it would be a waste of money.”

The Penang Malay Chambers of Commerce meanwhile said it had no objection to Kedah building a new airport but that the government should not rush into the project without consulting experts.

Its president, Rizal Faris Mohideen Abdul Kadir, suggested that the Kedah government seek help from Japan through ongoing talks on a national logistics plan.

Penang Malay Chambers of Commerce president Rizal Faris Mohideen Abdul Kadir.

He believes businesses in Penang have nothing to worry about as the state already has mature industry clusters and is established as the Silicon Valley of the east.

He added that the multiplier effect of having a new airport could in fact benefit Penang businesses.

“Our concern is more on the external factors affecting our national economic climate, and how we will cushion the bad impact rather than the construction of an airport.

“It’s time for us to be nationalistic and think about ways to spur the economy,” he said when contacted.

Kedah’s only airport at present is in Kepala Batas, 10km north of Alor Setar. Reports indicate that it will be made an international airport in four years’ time.

Penang Indian Chambers of Commerce president N Gobalakrishnan.

Perak has voiced interest in building an international airport in Seri Iskandar, 50km southwest of Ipoh. It plans to turn its older airport into a complex for private jets only.

Penang, on the other hand, plans to upgrade its existing international airport which is currently running over its capacity. It also plans to build another airport about 4km away on reclaimed land at Batu Maung.

The state government says it needs another airport to replace the one at Bayan Lepas, which even after expansion will last only another “20 years or so”.

The Penang International Airport handled 7.78 million passengers last year, exceeding its design capacity of 6.5 million passengers per year.

Kedah Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir recently announced a special purpose vehicle company, KXP Airport City Holding Sdn Bhd, to look into developing the airport. The company will begin operations on March 4, with the cost of building the airport estimated at RM1.6 billion.