PETALING JAYA: Sabah has more pressing issues that deserve the attention of the authorities than relocating the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA), said an expert.
Transport consultant Rosli Azad Khan said KKIA has in recent weeks seen an average of 38 arrivals and 36 departures, meaning that a plane would either land or take off every 12 minutes.
“At UK’s Heathrow Airport, it is around one (landing or departure) every two minutes, and at Changi Airport, it is one every four minutes,” he told FMT.
As such, Rosli said, a new airport was not a priority for Sabah. Instead, he said, the government should develop the state’s railway network.
“Sabah State Railway (SSR) needs more resources, new lines and new trains to further support economic growth and lower logistics costs. Investments into SSR will benefit Sabah more.
“Housing, including for squatters, electricity and water supply, rural roads and public transport for Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Tawau, are some of the more immediate things that Sabahans need,” he said.
On Monday, Qhazanah Sabah Bhd (QSB) said the results of a feasibility study on the proposed relocation of KKIA would be presented to the Sabah Economic Planning Unit today.
QSB, the strategic investment arm of the state government, signed a memorandum of understanding with property developer Berjaya Land Bhd to explore relocating KKIA to Kimanis in June last year.
Moyog assemblyman Darell Leiking also said he was not in favour of moving the airport as it would be difficult and expensive for travellers, particularly those outside of Kota Kinabalu.
“As it is, getting to KKIA from Kota Belud, Tuaran or Ranau is already costly and time consuming.
“The current airport is strategically located and is close to government facilities and services, including the state’s main hospital. The West Malaysian model, such as KLIA Terminal 1 and 2, cannot be applied to Sabah, especially Kota Kinabalu,” he said.
Leiking said the authorities should instead consider alternative measures, including the possibility of extending the current runway by reclaiming the sea fronting KKIA.
He said this would be similar to what Hong Kong did with the Chek Lap Kok International Airport. At the same time, he said, KKIA should be refurbished.
“Additionally, the Sabah government should prioritise improving basic and much needed infrastructure in the state for the benefit of all Sabahans and tourists, such as transport connectivity and water and electricity supply,” he said.
Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said while a larger airport was needed to accommodate an increasing number of flights, connectivity to the city was key.
“You cannot build a new airport without some form of mass transit, such as an express rail link (ERL) like the KLIA Ekspres, connecting the airport to Kota Kinabalu.
“Otherwise, it would be difficult for local people and tourists alike to reach the city centre,” he said.
Former Institute for Development Studies CEO Johan Arriffin Samad said the construction of an airport away from the city had its merits, including reduced traffic congestion and pollution.
However, he said, a bigger concern for the people was the lack of water and electricity supply, as well as the poor infrastructure in the state.
“A new airport does not interest the people. It is the wrong time to build an airport as the state’s economy is not in the best shape,” he said.