What is happening to Ipoh Airport?

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By James Gough

Much has been said and written about the Ipoh Airport or the Sultan Azlan Shah Airport. Hence when it was reported earlier this year that Sunway Construction Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Sunway Holdings Bhd, was awarded the tender to upgrade the airport, it was greeted with much expectation. Finally, a positive outcome seems imminent. The value of the contract was reported to be worth RM37.36 million.

The current Sultan Azlan Shah Airport or Lapangan Terbang Sultan Azlan Shah (LTSAS) was developed from a small Fokker airfield to accommodate medium-range jetliners such as Boeing 737s and an instrument landing system was installed in the late 80s when Sultan Azlan Shah was the then Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia.

Many would remember that the airport was readied in time for the visit of Queen Elizabeth II who paid a courtesy visit to the Royal Town of Kuala Kangsar in 1989 the same year that HRH Sultan Azlan Shah was crowned the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. The current ‘short cut’ road linking Jalan Lapangan Terbang to Jalan President Kennedy was also opened at the same time, just for the visit.

Although the federal government had provided an allocation of RM60 million for its upgrade last year, there was still talk of relocating the airport to the Dindings district as well as construction of a new airport up north within the Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER).

Dato’ Samsudin Hashim

A check with Dato’ Samsudin Hashim, the Chief Executive of Perak State Development Corporation – the state authority overseeing the project, provided an insight of what Perakeans can expect come September 2012, the date for completion of the project.

According to Samsudin, most of the work is being handled by the Ministry of Transport (MOT) and he thanked the federal government for accommodating the requests of the state government. The work is not confined to extending the runway by 200 metres but covers the whole airport.

Operations’ Background

Samsudin provided a background of the airport’s operations, saying that in its heyday when MAS was operating from Subang, over 500,000 passengers passed through its doors and it also had a healthy cargo operation.

Subsequently, when the North-South Expressway was opened in 2005, domestic travel between Ipoh to Penang and Kuala Lumpur became more practical by car.

The abrupt stop of services by MAS followed by a similar termination by Air Asia in 2006 turned the airport into a white elephant. Air Asia’s reason for stopping their Ipoh-Senai (Johor) route was due to their switch of aircraft from Boeing B737-200 to Airbus A320, with the explanation after the switch, that Ipoh Airport’s  “current runway was just too short to accommodate the new aircraft”.

Air service has became more competitive since the introduction of double tracking and electric trains which run right to the centre of Kuala Lumpur. Due to the accessibility of these services, Ipoh Airport has to reconsider its strategy. It now embarks on becoming a truly regional airport.

Scope of Work

According to Hj Mohd Rosli, MOT’s Undersecretary  (Development Division) the upgrading plan includes extending the runway by 200 metres, improving the airport’s terminal and apron, extension of the building and upgrading the existing customs and immigration facilities. Aircraft refuelling facilities available now will also be upgraded. “The completed airport will have its current passenger and visitor capacity increased by more than 10%,” added Rosli. Cargo handling and aircraft maintenance services have also been included into the upgrading plan, clarified PSDC Samsudin when asked.

Airport a Catalyst

Samsudin added that, “Logistics support is a key component for industrial development. The state’s objective is to position Ipoh as a regional airport and be economically viable by linking it with other international service airports within a radius of 2.5 hours.”

“Industrial development cannot depend on the domestic market any longer and has to go regional. Whilst in the process of promoting the State’s industrial development we will also be promoting the airport’s services”.

Ipoh’s position within the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMTGT) is strategic and this has been indicated to the IMTGT member countries. “This is a way forward for the airport and we will be promoting it to other ASEAN countries” giving the example of Singapore who “has been a significant contributor to the State’s industrial development.”

According to Samsudin the most important factor in this upgrade is the Flight Operator. Currently only Firefly is using the airport twice daily to Singapore. “PSDC will be approaching other Flight Operators and hopefully other budget airlines will offer their services”.

Other Commercial Services

Providing cargo services is important and all sectors whether trading or manufacturing will be positive beneficiaries, acknowledging that the aquaculture and agriculture industry players have been requesting for this service earlier.

Another service that the state is promoting is aircraft maintenance services especially for helicopters and small aircraft which it views as having “good potential”.

Eighteen Months Too Long

When enquired if the 18 month duration for the completion of the airport was too long, Rosli from MOT replied that, “Ipoh Airport is a running airport. You have commercial flights daily and a lot of activity is contributed by the flying school…18 months is normal.”

Tourism

Regarding the tourism industry Samsudin advised the stake holders to take note of the date September 2012 as an “opportunity to expand their business value. There should not be a delay targeting September 2012.”

 

7 thoughts on “What is happening to Ipoh Airport?

  1. Since they had decided to upgrade current airport, I respect them. But I hope they really upgrade the facility. Especially installation of electronic scanning of luggage when you arrive, I hate to see my luggage being mess up by the officer, also, its causing human jammed.

  2. It’s OK to let them spruce up the airport a little. We will still call for that new airport in Berahman Indera (Sri Iskandar) to be built at all cost ! When the budget gets approved, the construction will probably start after election ( political moves I believe. Just make sure BN wins in Batu Gajah, Tronoh & Perak Tengah, OK fellas ?! ). In the meantime, this SAS airport needs to cater to the growing business & population of the city, even if it were only able to handle small aircrafts such as the ones from Firefly. Arrangements to establish all kinds of air connections & cargo operating approvals should be set up without delay so that when the new airport (International LCC status it has to be !) in Brahman Indera is ready, operations can just be transferred over there ! No hassle. And this old airport can stay as a flight training centre, MRO centre and even an assembly plant for a foreign commercial jet aircraft in the future, God willing !

  3. I’m afraid this decision rest in the hands of some ‘very private interest groups/parties’ here. Definitely NOT in the interest of the public.

  4. I am quite dismayed by the statement by PSDC. I believed that these efforts were from MITI and because the officer produce “light” to some “underhand” issues, he was kicked out for telling the truth. No airline will fly in Ipoh and no reasonable CEO will allow flights into “unlucrative” Ipoh. I am sadden by the fact that the PSDC “allows” another airport to be built in Bagan Serai to “accommodate” Air Asia and one in Sri Manjung to “accommodate” large wide-bodied aircrafts”. The people must wake up and see what is happening. I’m still waiting for the cargo services that was “lauded” by PSDC, as I know MITI was the one who proposed it but was “credited” to PSDC. How ironic?

  5. What happens to the plan to build a brand new airport somewhere between Ipoh & Lumut ? Save that 37+ Mil upgrade and put that money into this project which would be a much more viable alternative that benefits the two cities (plus every small town that lies in between). Why put good money into an old facility that already has so many prohibitive constraints ? The exisiting airport could be razed down for new housing development or business park. (Ok, save the terminal building structure for the sake of preservation)

  6. Why can’t the state just leave the airport alone. Save the Rm 37.36M to help the poor and under priviledge citizens. Alternatively,just use the present Firefly planes for internal flights.Steven lee had given a very comprehensive reason.Has any detail planning and discussion been carried out,I wonder? Don’t let it be a big white elephant later on. By the way, what happen to the proposed SilverFly?

  7. The extension of 200 meters to the current runway length of 1,798 meters is pointless. Even after the extension, LCC’s using A320’s still won’t operate from Ipoh airport. The plane can land but can’t take-off at maximum take-off weight (2,090 meters is required, still short by 92 meters). Firefly’s ATR-72 planes can comfortably operate with the current runway length and don’t need the extra length.

    Ipoh airport is not among the airports that MoT allows to uplift air cargo for overseas destinations. Unless this is allowed, who will send their cargo through Ipoh airport? It is easier to send by land transport to local destinations. The air cargo service that was announced last year failed to take off because of this reason.

    Maintenance services for helicopters and small aircraft don’t require the runway to be lengthened. Neither does the flying school.

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