‘Govt must study airport plans first’


MELAKA: It is the government’s job to assess proposals to build ports and airports from the private sector, said Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“I don’t know whether the proposals are right or not.

“Nowadays, many people want to construct airports and ports but we have to gauge the potential first. I have only read about it in the newspaper,” he said to reporters after launching the affordable housing scheme in Lipat Kajang here.

Dr Mahathir was commenting on two alternative airport proposals on mainland Penang for the northern region being planned by the private sector.

In the wake of the Federal Government’s approval of the proposed Kulim International Airport, two companies prepared these alternative proposals.

In George Town, North Malaysia International Airport (NMIA) Consortium project director W.K. Soo revealed that the proposal to build an airport in south Seberang Prai was presented to the Prime Minister’s Office on Jan 14.

“We presented NMIA to senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office to seek guidance before approaching the other relevant ministries.

“We have the deepest respect for Dr Mahathir and that is why his office was the first in the government that we officially presented NMIA to,” Soo said yesterday, adding that after receiving guidance, the consortium would next approach all the relevant ministries.

Soo said NMIA took nearly four years to plan.

“A detailed environmental impact assessment and many other in-depth studies will be a must if the government is willing to look into this, so we spent four years on it.”

Soo said the consortium comprised some of the nation’s top experts in aviation, public transport, architecture and project development.

He said the public should be aware of alternative possibilities to spur growth in the northern region.

“We have to stop having the my state, your state mentality and think of Kedah, Penang and Perak together.”

He said Penang, southern Kedah and northern Perak were collectively called the Greater Penang Conurbation and it was the second largest in Malaysia after Greater Kuala Lumpur, which is generally called Klang Valley.

Soo felt that the three states was already blessed because at the point where they meet, there are already bustling towns.

“You have Nibong Tebal for Penang, Bandar Baharu for Kedah and Kerian for Perak.

“Most state borders only have hinterland villages and this is one of the rare tri-state borders in our country where busy towns are side by side.”

On the need to acquire about 1,050ha of padi fields to build NMIA, Soo said the consortium was aware of the sacrifice in rice production and would also consult the Agriculture Ministry.

“It is still in the proposal stage. This is a long-term project,” he added.

The Star yesterday revealed the consortium’s plans.

In exchange for building NMIA, the consortium’s proposed it be given the rights to develop the land that Penang International Airport now sits on.

A second airport proposal from a separate company called Northern Region International Airport, which involves reclaiming up to 5,000ha of land of south Seberang Prai, is still in the planning stage and the company plans to propose it soon.

The revelation of these airport proposals triggered a wave of surprise from the Penang government, Transport Ministry and Finance Ministry, all of whom said they were unaware of the proposals.

Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said while he was unaware of it, the state welcomed any proposal to develop a new airport in Penang or the northern region.

However, he stressed that “any new airport proposal must not jeopardise the role and function of Penang International Airport (PIA) and the future development of the state”.

The Transport Ministry, in a statement, asserted that “the power to set up or manage an aerodrome or to allow any company to do so is a power allotted to the Transport Minister under the Civil Aviation Act 1963”.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said that the Federal Government’s position, as stated in the 2019 Budget, is to expand PIA to a

capacity of 16 million passengers yearly from the present 6.5 million.

“The expansion will be conducted in two phases. PIA’s proposed

16 million passengers yearly should be able to meet the existing

PIA’s capacity until 2030.

“There is room for further expansion in the future of PIA to 20 million passengers.

“As for Kulim International Airport, the Federal Government is awaiting proposals on its construction through a private financing initiative, without requiring any expenditure from the Federal Government,” Lim said.