BN never intended to upgrade Penang airport, says Guan Eng

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng (second from left) and his wife Betty Chew (left) outside the Penang Supreme Court building at Light Street, George Town, today.

GEORGE TOWN: Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng says the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government “never approved” the expansion of the Penang International Airport (PIA) despite promising to do so.

He said the expansion plan was only approved and announced in the budget under the current administration.

“This (PIA expansion in the 2019 budget) is an official sanction and approval by the current government to expand the Penang airport.

“This is something many people do not realise: without the change of government, there would not be an expansion of PIA,” he told reporters outside the High Court here today.

On Nov 27, 2017, former transport minister Liow Tiong Lai told Lim in a parliamentary reply that PIA would be upgraded from its capacity of 6.5 million passengers per year to 12 million.

Similar remarks were made by former prime minister and finance minister Najib Razak who said in his 2018 budget that the Langkawi and Penang airports would be upgraded.

PIA is the second busiest airport in the country after KLIA, with the Kota Kinabalu International Airport taking third place.

On Kedah’s plans to build a new airport in Kulim, about 45 minutes’ drive from the Penang Bridge, Lim said they would have no serious effect on Penang’s economy.

He said Penang’s business ecosystem was too strong to be affected by the new airport as Penang had already been a logistics and supply chain hub for a long time.

Even when the Kulim airport is built, he added, people would prefer to use PIA, leaving the Kulim facility largely to those in Kedah.

“I think most are used to Penang. In that respect, the airport will be built on a competitive basis. We hope it can be complementary (to PIA),” he said.

According to Lim, the finance ministry has no objections to the Kulim airport as it does not involve government money and will be privately built.

“The prime minister has made a decision. He thinks it is good for Kedah and we have to respect the prime minister. The prime minister and the Kedah government feel that the new Kulim airport will help get more foreign direct investment.

“It will be good for Kedah and a good decision for them which we ought to respect,” he said.

Lim said plans to upgrade the passenger capacity of PIA are up to speed, putting the facility in good stead to be the leading airport in the region.

He said the government hopes to push the figure of 16 million passengers to 20 million so that it can cater to air traffic up till 2035.

At a press conference later, however, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said he had told the prime minister in February that the proposed Kulim airport would have a negative impact on Penang.

He said the prime minister had then ordered for a tripartite meeting between Kedah, Penang and the transport ministry, which has yet to take place.

“The tripartite meeting was decided by the prime minister during the meeting of menteris besar and chief ministers on Feb 26. We are still waiting for that meeting until today,” he added.

Chow maintains that PIA will be negatively affected by the new Kulim airport, based on previous feasibility studies conducted by the federal and Kedah governments.