Sabah, East Malaysia, Talks about a New International Airport

According to a report from local newspaper the Malaysian Insight, Sabah  (East Malaysia, Borneo Island) capital city Kota Kinabalu needs a brand new airport as the current KKIA (Kota Kinabalu International Airport) is approaching rapidly its saturation point.

The comment was done by Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Sabah chairman Ramli Amir  who indicated that preliminary studies should start quick before congestion becomes a serious problem at the current airport.

“Beyond this (KKIA), we have to start operating from a new site,” he told The Malaysian Insight. The recent boom in air transport is mostly due to a flux of charter flights, coming mostly from Mainland China. In 2016, Sabah recorded more than 250 chartered flights as opposed to only 20 in 2010. The airport now services 180 international direct flights a week, with AirAsia currently holding 49% market share, followed by Malaysia Airlines with 36%, Malindo Air with 4% while other carriers held together a market share of 11%.

The 10-year-old KKIA, built at a cost of RM1.4 billion has the capacity to handle 9 million passengers a year.

Last year, KKIA received 7,26 million passengers, 3.4 million of which were tourists. This represents a growth of 10.4% and followed two years of slight decline due to Malaysia economic crisis and a drop in tourist arrivals from China. Since 2011, passengers traffic grew by 25%. If growth at the airport continues to follow a similar growth pattern, the airport is likely to reach over 10 million passengers by the end of the decade.

An RM80 million expansion of the KKIA apron and terminal was announced at the beginning of March last year, with 10 additional overnight aircraft parking bays on the cards. But it will only be a temporary solution.

According to Ramli, the plan now is to focus on building a new international airport and commence working on it with the remaining time available. “It will take at least two to three years for the Sabah government to find suitable land and another three years to build the airport, so it would be on time for operation by 2025,” he explained to the Malaysian Insider, adding that there was not much room for KKIA to expand, given its proximity to the coastline.

Meanwhile, any attempted land reclamation at the KKIA site may jeopardise another adjacent mega project: the Tanjung Aru Eco Development (TAED). The sites share the same beachfront.

The airport would only be able to cater for to 12 million passengers without major construction but would be able to take in 21 million passengers a year if an additional building was constructed on the available land next to the terminal. However, a single runway would make difficult to accommodate the expected growth in traffic.

KKIA is positioned to tap into a market of 139.4 million potential visitors within a three- to six-hour flight radius.

In nearby State of Sarawak, they are now plans to open a proper low cost carrier terminal, most likely in cooperation with AirAsia. Once opened, AirAsia Bhd Chief Executive Officer Aireen Omar said that the carrier looks at connecting Kuching to new ASEAN destinations, Northeast Asia as well as India and Australia.