(Petaling Jaya, Friday): This morning, the Penang Airport was closed and all incoming and outgoing flights cancelled until 1.30 p.m. because of poor visibility which was 300 metres this morning. I was one of the passengers stranded at the Penang Airport and missed my appointment at Kuala Sungai Baru in Malacca at mid-day.
I am informed that in the two hours from 1.30 p.m. to 3.30 p.m., there were four outgoing and one incoming flights when the Penang Airport re-opened. The Penang Airport was closed again at 3.30 p.m. as visibility continued to be poor.
The closure of the Penang Airport today and yesterday when the Air Pollutant Index (API) for Seberang Prai was in the "unhealthy" level, and not the "very unhealthy" or "hazardous" level has deepened the crisis of confidence in the API among the people of Penang, and it is no exaggeration to say that very few Penangites believe the API to be an accurate and reliable indicator of air quality in the state.
According to today’s API readings, the API for Seberang Prai was 158 at 8 a.m., 170 at 11 a.m. and 184 at 2 p.m. Yesterday, the Penang Airport was closed at 3 p.m. and re-opened at 6 p.m. The API readings yesterday for Seberang Prai were 127 at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. and 123 at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Although Alam Sekitar Malaysia Sdn. Bhd. (Asma), which monitors the air quality index, has said that it is misleading to judge the visibility reading of a particular day against the API reading, both Asma and the authorities have a responsibility to fully convince the people that the API is accurate, timely and easily understandable.
For instance, the people of Penang want proper explanation as to why the visibility could be so bad as to require the closure of the Penang Airport when the API reading is between 120 to 158, which is a far cry from those registered in other areas like in Kuala Lumpur which had entered the "hazardous" level between 301-500, or even Sarawak which broke the API maximum band of 500 to reach 839.
Probably, Asma and the authorities concerned can begin by convincing the MPs and State Assemblymen about the accuracy and reliability of the API readings.
The closure of the Penang Airport in the last two days, which would have the most adverse effects on the tourist industry for the state, has strengthened the case of the Penang islanders that there should be API monitoring stations on the island.
The Penang State Government cannot continue to remain silent on the urgent need to set up an API monitoring station - in fact there should be three on the island - which should be implemented within a week. I hope this matter will receive the immediate attention of the Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon.