No construction, upgrade of airports until aviation industry recovers, says Transport Minister

  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 05 Oct 2021

KUALA LUMPUR: Every proposal to build new airports and upgrade existing ones will be put on hold until the aviation sector recovers, says Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong.

During this period, Dr Wee (BN-Ayer Hitam) said the Transport Ministry will only resolve land ownership issues in several areas at present airports for future development plans.

However, Dr Wee said proposals to construct airports at rural areas will be considered if there are pressing needs by locals living in the interiors of the country.

"The ministry will forward the application to the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) to upgrade or construct any airports based on the National Airport Strategic Plan (NASP) report," he said during his winding-up speech on the 12th Malaysian Plan in Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 5).

Dr Wee also said under the previous 11th Malaysian Plan between 2016 and 2020, no new international airports were built or upgraded.

However, Dr Wee said there are three ongoing upgrading projects, which consist of the Sandakan airport in Sabah and Sultan Ismail Petra airport in Kelantan, as well as the Mukah new airport in Sarawak, that began operating in June 17.

Dr Wee added there wasn’t a need to upgrade the Sultan Azlan Shah airport in Ipoh, as passenger arrivals recorded a drastic drop to merely 199,665 in 2020.

"That is a 78% drop compared to 2019 and the number of passengers continued to reduce until now.

"The Transport Ministry is of the opinion that the Sultan Azlan Shah airport's terminal and runway is still in good condition and it is adequate for the scale of present operations.

"Therefore, there is no pressing need to upgrade that airport in Ipoh."

Dr Wee also said upgrade works at the Penang International Airport that was carried out by Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) will be postponed until the aviation sector recovers.

"For this period, the government is currently resolving several issues, including the land acquisition in several areas in the vicinity of the Penang International Airport in order to ensure that upgrade works can be carried out once the aviation sector recovers."

Dr Wee said to ensure that airports across Malaysia have a long-term development plan that takes into account the effects of the pandemic, the ministry launched the NASP study that will begin at the end of this year.

"This will determine the direction of airport developments in Malaysia in terms of physical infrastructure development, airspace requirement, economic and strategic studies, so that an airport can be developed according to present needs," he added.

Sim Tze Tzin (PH-Bayan Baru) interjected and asked whether MAHB is financially able to fund the construction and upgrade of airports.

Dr Wee said since the pandemic began last year, MAHB spent RM140mil every month to maintain 39 airports across the country.

"What happens is when there is less passenger service charge (PSC) collected, it results in lesser income."

He cited figures, saying there were 109 million passengers in 2019, but noted the figure had dipped to 26 million last year.

"This is a drastic drop. MAHB had no choice, and they had to restructure their cash flow."

Dr Wee said studies conducted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimated that the aviation industry will only recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2025.

Sim then asked if the Penang International Airport would be prioritised for upgrades, as it is a domestic tourism location.

Dr Wee said it will be ideal to upgrade the Penang International Airport given the large volume of passengers it receives.

"But, the situation now is that the economy is stagnating. That is ideal if we have more sources of income. Due to the lack of funds, we have to change strategies.

"I also pray for the aviation industry to recover earlier than 2025."

Meanwhile, in a Facebook post, Dr Wee included pictures of him and Transport Ministry staff in a meeting following the winding-up debate on the 12th Malaysia Plan in Parliament.

Also present was Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Henry Sum Agong.

"Well done and congratulations to the entire Transport Ministry team," said Dr Wee.

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