Proposed relocation of KK airport to prepare for anticipated growth

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah must plan to relocate Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) from now as the current location would not be able to accommodate the projected passenger growth to 36 million annually in 13 years from now.

Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Department Datuk Abidin Madingkir said at present, KKIA’s capacity is only nine million passengers annually and there would not be sufficient land for expansion due to its close proximity to the city centre, which is about 15mins away.

“Even if we expand (there), the total capacity of passengers that can be accommodated is 18 million.

“But I was also made aware that by 2035, about 36 million passengers are expected to visit this state. Should we wait for congestion to happen before doing any planning? It is better for us to prepare now,” he said when answering the additional question from Luyang assemblyman Ginger Phoong Jin Zhe during the state assembly sitting on Wednesday (July 20).

Phoong in his original question asked the government to explain in detail about the airport’s proposed move to Kimanis, about 60km or an hour’s drive from the state capital, and why they did not study the potential of the airport remaining near downtown like in Sydney in Australia.

Abidin earlier explained that before the Covid-19 pandemic, KKIA’s passenger traffic had already surpassed its capacity by recording 9.4 million passengers in 2019, before dropping drastically to 2.3 million in 2020.

The figure dropped further to 2.1 million passengers last year, but the volume is expected to recover to pre-pandemic numbers in three years’ time.

He reiterated that the state government has given approval to its subsidiary company, Qhazanah Sabah Berhad (QSB) to collaborate with Berjaya Land Berhad (BLB) to conduct a feasibility study on the proposed airport relocation.

He also reminded that the previous state administration in 2018 also had similar plans and sought a consultant company to conduct a feasibility study, but findings had not been determined then.

“We must look at this upcoming study positively, taking the example of the relocation of Subang airport to Sepang in the past, which brought inclusive development in Sepang.

“Therefore, we also hope if the study finds the project viable, it will bring a spillover effect to Kimanis and the surrounding areas.

“The state government believes the study will consider ‘evidence-based planning’ in the planning and transportation sector development to cater to market demand,” added Abidin.

Meanwhile, Senallang assemblyman Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal who agreed on relocating the airport away from the city, asked whether the two entities had experience in conducting the study, and how much it cost to appoint both parties.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor in answering him, said they need to appoint a government-owned company like QSB to keep the state government in the loop.

“As for Berjaya, let’s say even though they may not have direct experience in such dealings, I am sure they are engaging consultants either domestically or overseas with expertise in airport planning and development.

“For your information, QSB or the government are not spending any money for this study, and we also did not pay BLB any fees to conduct the study,” added Hajiji.