Source: Published Jack Wong from The Star on Monday, 18 November 2019.
MASwings’ pilots making a landing at Bario STOLport operated by Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad. Sarawak has the most number of STOLport in the country due to its rough geographical terrain. – EDDIE CHUA/The Star
KUCHING: The Sarawak government is expected to fund three new airport projects costing more than RM780mil to provide and enhance air accessibility in the rural areas. These are the new Lawas airport in northern Sarawak, for which RM480mil has been approved, and two short take-off and landing airports (STOLports).
The proposed STOLports are Bebuling in Spaoh in the Betong Division (RM108.3mil) and Bukit Mabong, Tunoh in the Kapit Division (RM193.1mil), according to Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister and Infrastructure and Port Development Minister Tan Sri James Masing.
He said the STOLports are currently being designed, with tenders expected to be called in first-quarter 2020.
The two STOLports, which will both have a runway length of 780m, will cater to Twin Otter/Cessna 208 aircraft.
Masing said the proposed Bukit Mabong STOLport is a new rural air service route approved by the Malaysian Aviation Commission for passengers. When operational, the two STOLports would help to facilitate cargo transportation too and boost tourism activities besides air travel.
When ready, the new Lawas airport with a 1.5-km runway will serve the ART72 aircraft. Lawas currently has a STOLport.
The development of the new airports is the focus of the Sarawak government, which has approved billions of ringgit for the upgrading of existing roads and the construction of new roads and bridges under the Sarawak Coastal Road and Sarawak Second Trunk Road projects to enhance land accessibility, and the Sarawak Water Supply Grid Programme and electricity extension projects.
On the latest progress of the RM495.3mil new Mukah airport project funded by the federal government, Masing said the project was now about 60% completed.
Ibraco Construction Sdn Bhd, a wholly owned subsidiary of property developer Ibraco Bhd, was awarded the project for RM302.63mil in July 2017.
The contract period is for 36 months.
Mukah, the heartland of the Melanau, is one of the growth nodes of the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy. It is being developed as a Smart City, the digital centre and service hub of the fast-developing region in central Sarawak.
On the development of the state ports, Masing told the state assembly last week that the Sarawak government had approved RM30.5mil to install a vessel traffic management system (VTMS) at the Kuching Port next year.
The new system will enable the premier state port to manage the vessel traffic along the Sarawak River.
“The VTMS is necessary in ensuring the safety and efficiency of our maritime navigation, which is crucial for the ports’ competitivenesss and sustainability.
“For the other Sarawak ports, this VTMS will be installed in phases under the 12th Malaysia Plan, ” he added.
Masing said it was vital for the state government to strategise the development of ports in Sarawak.
There are five state ports – Kuching, Rejang, Miri, Tanjung Manis and Samalaju – which have a combined designed cargo throughput of 36.6 million tonnes per annum.
Last year, these state ports handled a total of 22.8 million tonnes of cargo or 62% of their designed capacity. The Samalaju Port was recently built to cater mainly for energy-intensive industries in the Samalaju Industrial Park in Bintulu. The biggest port in Sarawak is Bintulu Port, a federal port.
Masing said with the exception of the Samalaju Port, the growth potential of the state ports is constrained by the shallow access channels, as they are riverine ports.