|The Sultan Ismail Petra Airport in Pengkalan Chepa, Kelantan is now the busiest airport on the East Coast of the Peninsular Malaysia.|
The recent announcement by Prime Minister and Finance Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak that the Federal Government will be expanding the Sultan Ismail Petra Airport (LTSIP) in Pengkalan Chepa, Kota Bharu has been warmly received by the people.
Both the Pas-led Kelantan state government and the state Barisan Nasional have welcomed the announcement, which was made by Najib during his 2016 Budget speech in Parliament last month.
Frequent users of the airport have been calling for the expansion for several years as the present terminal, which was completed in 2002, has ran out of space to accommodate the increasing number of flights and passengers.
Even the Sultan of Kelantan, Sultan Muhammad V, has raised the issue in several of his speeches including during the opening of the state assembly meetings.
LTSIP has a rich history, starting as a British Royal Air Force base before World War 2. During the war, the Japanese used the airport for their invasion of Malaya. After the war, it was turned into a civilian airport.
The passenger terminal was built and it was then known as Pengkalan Chepa Airport. The construction of the new terminal building was started in 2000 and completed two years later at a cost of about RM55 million.
LTSIP is now the most active in the peninsula’s east coast and one of the busiest domestic airports in the country handling 32 to 40 flights daily. It is serviced by Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia, Firefly and Malindo Air.
It handled 589,950 passengers in 2003 and the figure has more than tripled last year to some 1.8 million passengers, which more than justifies its expansion. It also has a chartered helicopter service and is home to the Asia Pacific Flight Training flying school which has students not only from Malaysia but the region.
In 2010, a company secured a RM45.5 million contract to upgrade the airport. It included the construction of a taxiway, helicopter pads, a meteorological station and instrument landing system. The airport runway was also lengthened from 1,981m to 2,400m, and can accommodate the Airbus A330 and Boeing 737-800.
Besides Kuala Lumpur, there are now regular direct flights to almost every major town in the country including Johor Bahru, George Town, Langkawi, Malacca and also Kota Kinabalu and Kuching. The people in Kelantan are clamouring for the airport to be turned into an international airport. Firefly and AirAsia have previously offered services to Bangkok and Singapore respectively but they have since been terminated, probably because of low demand.
AirAsia chief executive officer Aireen Omar, when launching its Kota Bharu to Kota Kinabalu flights sometime ago, said it was considering using LTSIP as a hub for international flights to Indochina and southern China.
Air travellers and holidaymakers from the state are keeping their fingers crossed that the plan would become a reality in the near future.
Despite the proposed expansion of LTSIP, the state government is already looking far beyond the coming years. Menteri Besar Datuk Ahmad Yakob recently said that the Kelantan government had written to the Federal Government to suggest the construction of a new airport in Sungai Bagan, Machang as part of future plans.
He told reporters after a state executive council meeting several months ago that the state government had identified more than 350 hectares of land at the former Sungai Bagan estate. Ahmad said Machang was at a strategic location as it is situated in the middle of the state and the state-owned land was big enough for the construction of an international airport with a longer runway large enough for a Boeing 747.
Note: The writer is NST Kelantan bureau chief (Sulaiman Jaafar)
Source: New Straits Times | 23 Nov. 2015