Small padi town earmarked for new Kulim airport

A combined harvester going through a padi field in Sidam Kiri, Kedah. A 600ha oil palm estate has been identified as a possible site for the new airport.

SUNGAI PETANI: Huge changes could lie ahead for the padi village of Sidam Kiri here, where the RM1.6 billion Kulim international airport will reportedly be built.

A spokesman for the Sungai Petani Municipal Council confirmed that the airport would be built at Sidam Kiri although the exact site has yet to be determined.

The Kedah government, however, had earmarked 600ha of oil palm estate in there as the most likely site for the airport.

Sidam Kiri is some 40km away from Kulim town but the location is nonetheless strategic as it is only about 20km away from the Kulim Hi-Tech Park (KHTP), where multinational tech businesses including blue-chip companies like Infineon, Intel and Osram have set up shop.

KHTP, established in 1996, is the country’s first science park.

According to the Kedah government, much of its RM8.6 billion foreign investments have been concentrated in KHTP since 2013.

Sidam assemblyman Robert Ling with Kedah Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir.

Even closer to Sidam Kiri is the 200-acre car assembly plant of Sime Darby Inokom, which churns out BMWs, Minis, Mazdas and Hyundais just a 10-minute drive away from Padang Serai.

Sidam Kiri itself borders the Kulim district at the Muda River. The town immediately across the river is Sidam Kanan, which falls under Kulim.

This means that the airport will be built closer to Sungai Petani, under whose municipal council Sidam Kiri falls.

For now, Sidam Kiri is largely filled with oil palm estates, padi fields and villages, hemmed in by low, rolling hills.

There is also a Siamese Buddhist temple and plenty of bomoh or shaman shacks. Cottage industries such as woodcarving and basket weaving are common.

News that the airport could be coming up in Sidam Kiri was met with support by locals who expressed hope that it would mean more jobs and business for them.

“If it is true, it is good news,” said kuih maker Izzati Amin.

A farmer who asked to be known as Adi added that locals should be given a chance to participate in side projects that arise from the construction of the airport.

“I hope the state government will talk to us and hear us out on what we think. I fully support this airport project. It is good,” he said.

Sidam assemblyman Robert Ling meanwhile said the airport would bring an economic boom for Sidam Kiri as well as surrounding towns like Sungai Petani, Kulim, Padang Serai.

He voiced hope that the airport and other ancillary projects would bring job opportunities for the 500,000-odd population of the Kuala Muda district.

He said the airport would also stimulate the local agropreneur industry and food security businesses such as padi farming, coconut planting and the cultivation of other crops.

According to Ling, Kedah Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir is in talks with local growers to prepare their products for international export via the new airport.

He said many hauliers also face challenges carrying their goods to Penang for shipping due to mounting traffic on the Penang bridge and congestion at the Penang International Airport.

“We Kedahans desperately want something of this scale for us to grow economically,” he said, adding that the new Kulim airport would only complement Penang’s businesses in the long run.

He said many of his constituents are also happy that a bypass road going directly to the airport will be built soon.

The federal government plans to build two separate highways from Bandar Baharu to Sungai Petani, and another from Bandar Baharu to Penang’s second bridge at a cost of RM1.7 billion in two phases.

Once complete, the highways from Bandar Baharu, in the southernmost part of Kedah, will allow traffic to bypass Penang’s mainland Seberang Perai.

Kedah Chinese Assembly Hall president Cheng Lai Hock.

Kedah Chinese Assembly Hall (KCAH) president Cheng Lai Hock agreed that the Kulim airport would allow hauliers to skip the congestion at the Penang airport.

“It will be good for the economy of Kedah. The Penang airport is quite congested, with limits on how much you can expand it. So Kulim is perfect,” he said.

The Kedah government has appointed KXP AirportCity Holding Sdn Bhd (KAHSB) to spearhead, manage and coordinate the construction of the Kulim airport.

The company is fully-owned by the state government via the Kedah Development Corporation (PKNK).

KAHSB is headed by Mukhriz as chairman, with three board members comprising state secretary Ammar Shaikh Mahmood Naim, PKNK chief executive Abdul Rahman Abdullah, and KLIA Premier Holdings Sdn Bhd president and CEO Jamilus Hussein.

At the state assembly last month, Mukhriz said the airport had been included in the draft Kuala Muda District Local Plan (Replacement) 2035, which has been on display for public feedback since April 1.

“KXP, in principle, has received approval from the federal government so as to focus on logistics and cargo activities which are high impact projects, opening job opportunities to many Kedahans in the long run.

“We are planning to focus on aerospace industries through the creation of a new industrial park near the airport, which would see foreign investors coming in,” he was reported as saying.

The state government had said that many parties from China and Europe have shown interest in building the airport to support the Kulim and Penang industrial parks.