GEORGE TOWN: Soon more people can fly in and out of Penang without having to spend a bomb.
If the plan materialises, the low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT) by AirAsia will be ready by 2022 to serve its operations and enhance connectivity from Penang.
Sources said works were scheduled to start next year on a 22ha plot within the Penang International Airport (PIA) complex in Bayan Lepas, subject to detailed design and survey.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the LCCT, with a built-up area of 35,000sq m, is expected to be built on the present site of the MAS Cargo Complex.
It is learnt that the complex, together with the fuel depot and sewerage treatment plant, would have to be relocated to make way for the development.
One source said the project’s success would depend on the government’s support, such as help in expediting authority approvals for the various stages to complete the terminal.
“AirAsia is occupying 50% of PIA at the moment and there is no room for expansion anymore. The low-cost airline giant wants to turn Penang into a northern transit hub by having more direct flights from South-East Asia to the state.
“It also wants to manage the terminal independently from Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad (MAHB),” the source said.
AirAsia had been wanting its own LCCT so that it could keep its costs low.
Its group chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes was earlier quoted as saying that they had proposed the development of a LCCT at PIA during his courtesy visit to Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow on July 31.
He said a new terminal would help increase the number of their planes from five to 16 over the next five years, bringing in eight million passengers per annum into the state.
Earlier this month, the project was highlighted at the state assembly by Air Putih assemblyman Lim Guan Eng, who is also Finance Minister.
Lim said the present airport in Bayan Lepas only has the capacity to handle 6.5 million passengers a year, but arrivals last year hit 7.1 million and the number is expected to increase to 7.8 million this year.
The source said a throughput of nine million passengers per annum was being planned, adding that the apron space would accommodate 16 narrow body and one wide-body aircraft bays.
He said ideally, the operations of LCCT and PIA should be separated because by the time the MAHB carries out its expansion at PIA in five years, it would have to handle 10 million passengers a year at PIA.
“The congestion caused by the lack of capacity at the present terminal has hindered the growth of operations at the airport.
“With the LCCT, the full service airlines would be able to expand operations with the release of capacity at the present terminal.
“It can also complement the current expansion of the Swettenham Pier cruise terminal, which is expected to bring in more tourists once it is expanded from 480m currently to 700m, which would allow two mega-cruise vessels to berth simultaneously,” he said.
The source also said with the LCCT, AirAsia could increase its connectivity from eight international destinations to 21.
There would be direct flights from Penang to Bali, Chiangmai, Macau, Hong Kong, Taipei and several cities in China such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu and Chongqing, as well as Trichi and Kochi in India.
AirAsia currently operates 317 weekly one-way flights into PIA. Besides domestic flights, the low-cost carrier flies to Hanoi, Phuket, Jakarta, Singapore, Medan, Ho Chi Minh City, Surabaya and Bangkok.
The present PIA is the oldest airport in the country, having been built in 1935 when Penang was part of the Straits Settlement in South-East Asia ruled by the British.
It underwent a major upgrade in 1979 to accommodate Boeing 747s, then the largest planes in the world.
The terminal saw two significant facelifts in 2009 and 2013.