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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Subang - best choice for city airport

ONE idea that should have been given more prominence in the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), in the context of “Greater KL”, is the creation of a city airport.

Specifically, turning the already existing Subang airport into a city airport, with more aircraft plying it, including (albeit, in a limited way), commercial jet aircraft.

City airports are a feature of many major cities the world over and they seem to nicely complement their major airports.

What sets this idea apart from other transport-related ones in the ETP is that it requires so little to get it started. That’s because we already have a city airport in form. What is needed is a mere tweaking of policies. At present, the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang only allows the operations of propeller aircraft (for commercial passenger flights).

Turning the Subang airport into a full-fledged city airport does not require the heaps of investments other transport-related plans mentioned in the ETP.

Furthermore, it requires very little changes to an already choking city. One just has to imagine the major construction works that will be carried out to build the mass rapid transit system over the next few years. And, the astronomical ball park figure of RM50bil to get that project up and running. Until today, it is unclear who exactly is going to fork that money out.

To turn Subang airport into a city airport however, will require a decent dose of political will and careful explanation to interested parties why this is a good idea now.

To be sure, this idea is not new. Everyone following the aviation industry will know of that one very entrepreneurial airline industry individual who had lobbied long and hard for his budget airline to use Subang as its base. The idea even then, made perfect sense but it was never to see the light of day, for one reason or another.

One of those reasons was a determination by the Government to make KL International Airport (KLIA) a success.

Hence the question is, will a move to have a city airport be detrimental to KLIA? From the standpoint of airport operator, Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB), the concern will surely be that its earnings from KLIA could be cannibalised from giving Subang more flights.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another way to see it is that Subang can play a complimentary role to KLIA, just like how most city airports in bigger cities around the world do. In London, Chicago, New York, Tokyo and Shanghai, the city airports have posed no major threats to the main airports in those cities, as the city airports play a sort of niche and complimentary role. Furthermore, it is very likely that having a city airport would create new revenue streams for MAHB.

City airports tend to cater to shorter flights and appeal largely to businessmen and professionals making short flights to attend meetings.

A well-located city airport (like the one in Subang) will help reduce regional business travel time significantly, which in turn could enhance productivity levels of Malaysian professionals and businessmen.

Subang airport’s transformation into a city airport has other advantages. Since 2008, work had begun to transform it into a modern day airport by its operator Subang Skypark Sdn Bhd, with much success, judging by the growing number of passengers travelling through it. The area is also the home of the Malaysian International Aerospace Centre.

It is located not too far away from the KTM Komuter station in Subang Jaya. This poses the possibility, again without a massive amount of capital expenditure, to link the airport up with the city via KL Sentral. Imagine the connectivity and time-savings for a business traveller flying in from say, Bangkok or Singapore for a meeting in Shangri-La hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Hence more little more needs to be done other than a change in government policies, to give this facility a chance to become a full-fledged city airport.

Jet aircraft plying Subang however, had been contentious in the past for another reason – some residents of Subang didn’t quite like it, and understandably so. But smaller narrow-bodied jet aircraft should be less offensive to the residents.

Also, to be noted is that Subang airport already has jet aircraft flying into it, in the form of private jets and Transmile Group Bhd’s cargo planes. Furthermore, if indeed, Subang airport is made the city airport, the township of Subang should see a multiplier effect as the connectivity would bring in more travellers needing services such as eateries and hotels. Property prices in Subang will also likely to benefit. All that may be needed is careful planning and proper communication and the chances are, there would be more people supporting the idea of making Subang airport, Greater KL’s much needed city airport.

Deputy news editor Risen Jayaseelan, who lives less than 20km from the Subang airport and who loves to travel into the region, openly declares that his arguments for more flights out of Subang Airport is partly driven by personal interests.

By The Star (by Risen Jayaseelan)

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