George Town, 2 September 2021
I would like to begin by congratulating Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong on his reappointment as Minister of Transport. As there has been no major changes for this portfolio, it is hoped that the minister and his team can focus their attention on a few urgent concerns.
Foremost on the agenda for Penang is the expansion of the Penang International Airport. In 2013 the airport was upgraded to cater to a capacity of 6.5 million passengers per annum (PPA). However, passenger growth exploded and by 2019 its capacity had been far exceeded with a total of 8.3 million PPA recorded.
Hence during the Pakatan Harapan administration, the Ministry of Transport had approved the proposal to expand the airport to a minimum of 12 million PPA. In fact, planning permission was submitted to the local authorities and work had been scheduled to begin when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
Unfortunately, the pandemic also coincided with the change of Federal Government in early 2020, resulting in the airport expansion project being put on hold. In justifying the decision, the Federal Government announced that all airport expansion plans nationwide would be postponed pending the finalisation of a National Airports Strategic Plan (NASP).
As the Penang International Airport was one of Malaysia Airport Holdings Berhad’s (MAHB) fastest growing and most profitable airports in pre-Covid times, it is safe to assume that passenger growth will pick up again the moment the pandemic is brought under control and borders are reopened.
With vaccination rates increasing and economic sectors gradually opening up, it will not be long before the airport achieves its previous levels of passenger numbers. Therefore, would it not be prudent to begin construction of the expansion now when the airport is virtually empty in preparation for the future?
Besides the Penang International Airport expansion, the progress of the Kulim International Airport project that is spearheaded by the Kedah State Government raises many questions among travellers and industrial players alike.
Is the Kulim International Airport project sanctioned and approved by the Federal Government when they have clearly said all airport projects will be put on hold pending the NASP study? And if it is not, will the Federal Government allow the project to continue? If it does continue, what impact would it have on the expansion of the Penang International Airport, which is MAHB’s “golden goose” in terms of both passenger arrivals and cargo?
Clarification is needed and the Penang State Government hopes that the Minister of Transport can clear the air on both the Penang International Airport expansion project, as well as the Kulim International Airport.
Zairil Khir Johari
Penang State EXCO for Infrastructure and Transport