Kulim airport on everybody’s lips

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  • Tuesday, 26 Mar 2019

An artist’s impression of Kulim International Airport shared on Facebook since 2015.

THEY talk about Kulim International Airport (KXP) even in my WhatsApp fishing groups.

From businessmen to retirees to executives, Penangites bring up the KXP in their conversations ever since Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali went to Alor Setar last Tuesday and gave the good news to Kedahans.

From what I hear, most Penangites are unhappy.

I doubt anyone would believe that Kedah needs another airport. It already has two — in Langkawi and Alor Setar.

No matter how politicians position it, the Penangites on the street will conclude that the creation of KXP is for Kedah to tap into Penang’s economic growth.

It is a way, to put it nicely, to spread the wealth and create a more balanced economy in the northern region.

That is fine, except that besides Senai in Johor and Changi in Singapore, it is unthinkable to have two full-service passenger and cargo international airports within 50km from each other.

Flying at 500km/h, your plane covers 50km at the same time you go to the loo cubicle and return to your seat.

Think of all those planes up there, circling between Penang and Kulim within 50km.

With a larger and more modern KXP, there is a chance that 15 to 20 years down the road, the Penang International Airport (PIA) will be redundant.

If a private investor can be roped in to fund the creation of KXP, I dare say that PIA’s days will be numbered.

PIA will still have to be expanded soon, of course, because it will be perhaps a good 10 years of fundraising, planning and construction before the first plane can land on KXP.

So now, let’s be hypothetical and frankly conclude that KXP spells the end of PIA, no matter how politicians try to give us a soft landing. Let’s think of what will happen to Penang then.

What if Penangites look on the brighter side?

First, if the RM1.7bil Northern Corridor Highway (NCH) could be built in just one day, Seberang Prai folk will wake up the next morning and find a stress-free drive to work.

The NCH is needed as a major road connection to KXP, and thanks to it, the load on Seberang Prai’s road infrastructure will be reduced tremendously.

All traffic between the north and Kuala Lumpur has to pass through Seberang Prai now, and with NCH making a nice circle around Seberang Prai, folks in Butterworth, Bukit Mertajam and Seberang Jaya will find their roads suddenly and incredibly jam-free.

This will give room for the mainland to grow because the prime roads will not be congested anymore.

And now, imagine a Bayan Lepas without PIA.

According to Malaysia Airports Berhad’s records, over 130,000 tonnes of cargo flew out of PIA in 2017.

This includes factory goods from Seberang Prai, Kedah, Perak and even from south Thailand, and they all came through either bridge.

That is a lot of lorries burdening the island’s infrastructure.

So once again, things the federal government wants to do to help Kedah will free up Penang’s resources and infrastructure load and give us room to grow.

The second thing that happens without PIA is that the building height restriction for nearly all of Bayan Lepas will be removed.

The burden of having an airport in our backyard is that only low buildings are allowed all around it, for obvious reasons.

With the height restriction gone, property owners there need no longer have a cap to their land prices.

The whole expanse of Bayan Lepas suddenly becomes a prime region of new development; reclamation not required.

An astute gentleman pointed out to me that Petaling Jaya in Selangor showcases the potential for Bayan Lepas.

Once upon a time, Petaling Jaya was an industrial area with lots of factories. Even The Star’s printing factory was in Section 13, not far from the Dutch Lady milk powder plant.

But the factories have now made way for a bustling urban, retailing and financial centre, and that can be what Bayan Lepas will become.

I drove to Kulim to see a friend last Friday. Toll to toll, it took only five minutes, driving at 110km/h.

Kulim is so near to Butterworth. Having an airport on the mainland instead of the island will mean that Seberang Prai will grow by leaps and bounds.

Penang has always been island-centric. That has to change and the state’s Penang 2030 master plan has already recognised the mainland as the region of future growth for the state.

Yes, it is convenient for the airport to be 20 minutes’ drive away. That is what some Penangites enjoy for now, unlike Kuala Lumpur folk who sometimes have to start driving to their airport in Sepang three hours before the flight takes off.

Nothing is so good, it lasts eternally. There is a silver lining in every cloud.

If Penang is to grow, perhaps Penangites could stop wanting ‘everything’ to be on the island.

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