LAWAS: Travel for folk in Lawas and southern Sabah would be a breeze when the proposed new Lawas airport is completed under the second rolling of the Tenth Malaysia Plan (10MP)
Deputy Minister of Transport Datuk Abdul Rahim Bakri said the present transportation and communication woes would be addressed by the building of the airport by the federal government under the mid-term review of 10MP, which has been regarded as an essential project.
The new airport would also open up communication links around Lawas, including the Ba Kelalan and Bario highlands apart from neighbouring Sabah, he said during his working visit here yesterday.
“The construction of the new airport is a necessity and not a luxury for this region,” he said, adding that it would also boost the economic growth of the district and southern districts of Sabah.
The current fleet of four Twin Otter aircrafts is also slated to be replaced with more modern aircrafts that meet the requirements of rural Short Take-off and Landing (STOL) airstrips under the Rural Air Service (RAS) for Sabah and Sarawak.
These reliable aircrafts currently operated by MasWings are already 28 years-old.
Rahim said the ministry was informed by Second Minister of Planning and Resource Management Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan of the problem of frequent flooding at Lawas airport during rainy spells which caused much inconvenience to the people.
The increase in passenger traffic would also bring a brighter prospect for the district’s tourism industry as it is currently constricted by limited air travel connectivity.
The deputy minister also visited the proposed site of the new airport which has been approved by the state government, and gave the thumbs up for its strategic location in the economic development triangle of Sarawak, Sabah and Brunei.
He, however, declined to give the cost apart from saying that the emphasis would be on the runway which is more costly compared to terminal building.
The present Lawas airport was built in 1961, with a runway of 683 metres long and 18 metres wide at a bend of the Lawas river, making it impossible to lengthen it and vulnerable to flood.
It recorded 54,210 passengers last year, compared to 48,744 and 45,728 in 2009 and 2008 respectively. There are currently 30 flights weekly in Lawas-Miri sector, apart from Lawas-Ba Kelalan (six) and Lawas-Kota Kinabalu (twice).
With an annual passenger growth rate of five per cent, volume is projected to reach 65,728 by 2014, but Malaysia Airport Berhad believes it can be higher with the new airport that caters for bigger aircrafts and due to the economic growth in the district.
Meanwhile, Abdul Rahim and his entourage also visited the Road Transport Department office in Lawas which is facing congestion.
Also present were Ba Kelalan assemblyman Nelson Balang Rining, Datuk Abdul Nasir Abdul Razak (MAHB), RTD Sarawak director Mohd Shafiq Anas Abdullah, Lawas district officer Mohd Supaih Hamdan, heads of department and community leaders.