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).
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.
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.
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.”
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.”