In the run-up to Asean Economic Community integration in 2015, Brunei Darussalam is ramping up transport developments, chasing new opportunities and re-establishing past connections.
With the potential for a boost in inter-Asean travel, the Sultanate is working to position itself as an intermediary for business and leisure travellers.
Isolated by the sea, Brunei Darussalam is cut off from access to both the Trans-Asian Railway and the Asean Highway Networks, which is spurring the authorities to improve air and maritime connectivity, externally, while expanding internal road connections.
In its ‘Global Competitiveness Report 2013 to 2014’, the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Brunei Darussalam 49th out of 148 countries for the standard of its seaports, jumping eight places year-on-year, and 55th in terms of the competitiveness of its air services infrastructure, an improvement of six places.
Most recently, Royal Brunei Airlines announced it would reinstate its route to Ho Chi Minh City.
The route, which was cut in October 2011, has regained importance as passenger numbers to Vietnam jumped 15 per cent in 2013. The airline announced in August it plans to run four round-trip flights a week starting in October.
The move is one of several efforts to increase air traffic with regional partners. Royal Brunei announced its order of seven A320neo aircraft in mid-August, due for delivery in 2018, saying that the planes were specifically intended to reduce fuel costs and serve potential new routes to Australia.
According to the airline, the A320neo uses 17 per cent less fuel than the A320s currently in use, and with Brisbane, Perth and Darwin just a few hours’ flying time away, the company is confident demand will rise.
With the increased passenger numbers, extensions to the Brunei International Airport are seeing timely completion.
The US$150 million upgrade process, which is expected to finish later this year, is set to double passenger handling capacity at the airport to three million and will include new arrival and departure areas, luggage handling facilities and expanded parking.
Developments are ongoing to improve road and maritime transport as well, spurred on by the country’s development plan, Vision 2035. The plan focuses on public-private partnerships and foreign investors.
Several projects are now under way. The 2.7-kilometres Pulau Muara Besar Bridge seeks to improve connectivity between the manufacturing centre and the Sultanate’s mainland while the Temburong Bridge will connect that island to the rest of the country.
The 607-metre Sungai Brunei, being built with the help of South Korea’s Daelim Industrial, will bridge Jalan Residency in Bandas and Kg Sungai Kebun in Lumapas.
The bridges will better integrate the sultanate’s 3,030-kilometres road network, with the combined effects of both easing traffic and improving industrial transport to the ports.
The expansion of the main deepwater seaport or the container terminal at Muara is on track to be tendered in the current quarter.
In 2001, the terminal handled approximately 60,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containers – none of which were trans-shipment boxes.
The increased capacity will allow for larger container ships, raising the port’s cargo handling capacity to more than 100,000 TEUs, of which close to 30 per cent is expected to be trans-shipping traffic.
Port authorities also announced an upcoming tender for a project in late 2013, saying it would involve an extension of a 150 to 200-metre container-wharf at the terminal.
The extended container terminal will enable both greater storage capacity at the site as well as improved transfer times to and from trucks.
While improved air and sea transport infrastructure will enable the Sultanate to remain an essential hub for the region, it will also help Brunei Darussalam to overcome its main challenge, which remains the diversification of its economy from oil and gas exports.
Greater connectivity with the region will help the economic expansion process, particularly by encouraging multilateral trade and cooperation, and tourism.