By Jerry Francis
Another round of hope for a new airport in Perak was rekindled when Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri DiRaja Zambry Abdul Kadir recently announced that the state government had resubmitted its plans to the Federal Government.
He said the proposed airport is to be located at a site which was selected earlier but had to be shelved as it was earmarked for other development.
It is in a growth centre and the landscape is suitable for the construction of an airport.
Although he did not identify it, it is obvious that he was referring to the Iskandar Forest Reserve area in the Perak Tengah District. According to him, a series of initial discussions have been held.
Tourism and business communities have been calling for a new and bigger airport with a longer runway to accommodate larger aircrafts, to replace the Sultan Azlan Shah Airport in Ipoh.
I remember just before the General Election in 2008 a similar announcement was made publicly.
It was of a much ambitious project – the world’s first Humanitarian Airport to be established in the same location.
The airport would provide emergency medical care for the Asia-Pacific region – described as one of the most disaster prone areas on the planet, with earthquakes, volcanic explosions, tsunamis and floods occurring regularly.
The Perak Government was to allocate 800ha of land for the transit hub of the global relief operations. It was to include a 500-bed hospital and a 3760m-long runway to accommodate aircraft, such as Boeing 747, and other related facilities.
Apart from accommodating rescue aircraft and helicopters for deployment to disaster areas, the airport would also host commercial airlines facilities – thereby becoming an alternative international air terminal in Perak. The cost, estimated at RM1 billion, was to be provided through a foreign humanitarian fund.
A memorandum of understanding was said to have been signed with the State Development Corporation and the Civil Aviation Department had approved it.
This news about the humanitarian airport was very convincing. The residents of Bandar Seri Iskandar and the surrounding areas were excited over the announcement and were looking forward to the prospect of having such an airport in the area.
But just as fast as a flash flood emerges and subsides, the news about the proposed airport too suddenly fizzled out after the General Election.
What surprises me is how so much was said to have been done and achieved since 2006 and yet, a curtain could suddenly be drawn over the project and nothing was mentioned after that. No explanation was given.
A Much Talked About Airport
The Sultan Azlan Shah Airport is probably a much talked about airport in the country. Talks of a new airport to replace it have been going on for more than three decades.
In the 80s it was felt that Bota, about 50km east of the city, was the best site. Geographically it is ideal as the terrain in the area is generally flat.
However, over the years there have been suggestions of it being located in the Batang Padang District in the south and in the Northern Economic Corridor of Perak, Penang and Kedah in the north.
But one would have thought all these talks of having another airport would have ended after the Federal Government spent over RM40 million to upgrade the airport in 2013.
The runway was extended from 1800m to 2000m and the terminal building and other facilities were upgraded to cater for both domestic and international flights.
Yet, it failed to achieve its objective as a regional airport. Airlines operating to and from Sultan Azlan Shah Airport began to stop as the volume of passengers was poor.
Can relocating of the airport make any difference? After all it will be midway between the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Subang Airport and the Bayan Lepas International Airport in Penang.
Let’s hope this latest talk of a new airport in Perak is not just another election talk as the General Election is around the corner. Once over, it will fall silent and the talk of a new airport will continue to emerge again and again, but nothing materialises.