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This popped out of my messy desk. It’s a report in The Edge Malaysia of Aug 7, 2023.

It quoted economist and former Mavcom (Malaysian Aviation Commission) chairman Dr Nungsari Ahmad Radhi and contained a table on Malaysian airport utilisation and capacity compiled by Malaysia Airport Holdings Bhd.

Nungsari pointed to Malaysia’s tendency to build, build and build unnecessarily, including airports, saying “We should just focus on increasing utilisation of what is already here”.


This brought to mind recent discussions about the alleged  ‘need’ for a bigger Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) at a different location.

According to MAHB, KKIA reached  only 55.8% of its design capacity in 2022, handling 5.02 million passengers.

Kuching touched 86.8 per cent capacity and Penang 65.9% but their talk of new airports appeared more muted.

Cynics put KK’s enthusiasm down to the real motive of those championing a relocation of KKIA.

The present Airport sits on a piece of priceless seafront land with a glorious view of Kota Kinabalu’s tourist-drawing sunset over the South China sea.

It looks ideal for a city expansion in the future.

And, by the way It sits adjacent to the billion dollar and controversial Tanjung Aru Eco Development.

Further, there’s talk that some with political strings have long acquired vast tracts of land in Kimanus, south of KKIA, and Tuaran, to the north,  and they stand to gain richly should the Airport move materialises.

While much interest is being kicked up about the KKIA, there seems little of the same about other Sabah airports.

For example, the Sandakan Airport is 56.7% utilised in 2022,  Tawau is 91.9% and Lahad Dato was over utilised by 21%.

There is an active plan to build an international airport at Lahad Datu.

Talk of a new facility there has been going on and off for at least the last 30 years.

At nearby Labuan, the airport (which doubles as a military one) achieved only 20.7% of its 2,000,000 passenger capacity. Some who pooh-poohed the idea about a new KKIA suggested using the residue capacity at Labuan for Sabah-bound passengers.

It seems to make sense in light of Dr Nungsari’s point about utilising what we already have and the fact that Labuan is just a 20-minute hop away.

It’s understandable that KKIA”s still available capacity is being ignored by the promoters of a new airport.

But it seems that government leaders also conveniently overlooked this fact, probably to keep themselves safe on the gravy train.

KKIA is designed to handle 9 million passengers per year. Unless miracles happen in the tourism and investment fronts to pump up arrivals, miniscule organic passenger growth will ensure KKIA has the handling capacity for many more years to come.

But of course, its usability will depend on whether the cleaning crew could keep up, and that water and electricity supplies are assured.

Editor: The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Talantang.

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