KOTA KINABALU: The relocation of Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) has to be carried out as the state needs a bigger airport to cater for a growing number of visitors.
Datuk Abidin Madingkir, Assistant Minister to the Chief Minister, said currently the airport has a capacity of only nine million passengers annually.
Sabah is projected to see tourist arrivals grow to 36 million by 2035, he added.
“Should we wait for congestion to happen before doing any planning?” he said when answering a question by Luyang assemblyman Ginger Phoong Jin Zhe during the state assembly sitting here yesterday.
Phoong had asked for an explanation on the proposal to move KKIA to Kimanis, about 60km or an hour’s drive from here, before further inquiring why the government did not study the potential of keeping the airport near downtown.
Abidin said being close to the city centre, which is just 15 minutes away, means there would not be sufficient land for the airport to expand.
“Even if we expand, the total number of passengers that can be accommodated will only be 18 million,” he added.
Abidin noted that KKIA’s traffic had already surpassed its capacity in 2019, when it recorded total passenger traffic of 9.4 million.
The figure, he said, dropped drastically to 2.3 million in 2020 following the global outbreak of Covid-19, and decreased further to 2.1 million the following year.
“But the traffic volume is expected to recover in three years’ time to the stage before the pandemic,” he added.
Abidin reiterated that the state government has given approval to its subsidiary company Qhazanah Sabah Bhd (QSB) to collaborate with Berjaya Land Bhd (BLB) to conduct a feasibility study on the proposed airport relocation.
He reminded the assembly that the previous state administration in 2018 also had similar plans and sought a consultant company to do the study, but the findings had not been determined then.
“We must look at this upcoming study positively, taking as an example the relocation of the country’s main international airport from Subang to Sepang in Selangor. That move brought inclusive development to (the small town of) Sepang.
“We also hope that if the study finds the project viable, it will have a spillover effect on Kimanis and its surrounding areas,” Abidin added.
Senallang assemblyman Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal asked for information on the experience and background of QSB and BLB, as well as the cost of the feasibility study.
In response, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor said the state government needed to appoint a government-owned company like QSB to keep the state government in the loop.
“As for BLB, let’s say even though it may not have direct experience in such dealings, I am sure it is engaging consultants either domestically or overseas with expertise in airport planning and development.
“For your information, QSB or the government is not spending any money for this study, and we also did not pay BLB,” he added.