(Bagan, Tuesday): I am surprised that the Penang State Government and the Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon have been keeping mum about the adverse effects of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) to Penang economy and tourism for the past month.
The people of Penang can still remember the complacency of the Penang
Chief Minister in June last year when the shock
announcement was made that Penang had lost the site to be the international
airport for the northern region., which would be built on reclaimed islands
off Kedah coast.
Asked at the time if the new proposed airport in Kuala Muda could adversely affect tourism in the State, Dr. Koh said that on the contrary, it might actually boost Penang’s tourism and broached the possibility of "fast-speed water taxis and ferry services" between the proposed Northern Regional International Airport on reclaimed islands in Kedah and Penang!
Somehow, the people of Penang are getting the impression that the Chief Minister is not as zealous as before in safeguarding the best interests of Penang, as shown by his silence and indifference at the adverse efffects of the KLIA to the Penang economy and tourism for the past month.
Before the shift from Subang International Airport to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Sepang, it was very difficult to book flights from Penang to Kuala Lumpur on Monday mornings, as all flights would be fully-booked quite well in advance.
Nowadays, however, it is no problem to get on MAS flights from Penang to Kuala Lumpur on Monday mornings, although there has been a reduction in the number of flights. In fact, it is common for the MAS flights to have very few passengers - such as some 20 passengers in an Airbus with a capacity of some 280 - with the passenger load often in the region of between 10 to 20 per cent.
I understand that the previous 45 flights a day from Penang have been slashed by one third to about 30 flights a day, but there is still very poor passenger load because of KLIA - not just the inconvenience arising from its distance from Kuala Lumpur or Petaling Jaya, but because of the failure of the KLIA to operate smoothly and efficiently despite nearly one month of operations.
The baggage handling system, dubbed as the most sophisticated and fastest in the world which could locate luggage in seconds, is still a nightmare. Passengers from New Delhi on a MAS flight a few days ago took four hours to complete the journey but have to wait for five hours for their baggage! There are reports that there could be one to two thousands complaints about baggages at the KLIA for one single day alone.
This is why there is a sharp fall in passengers to and from Penang on MAS flights, which is not only a ruinous to MAS but ruinous to Penang economy and tourism.
I call on the Penang Chief Minister to fly immediately to Kuala Lumpur to take up the issue with the Transport Minister and even the Prime Minister to ensure that the Penang economy and tourism do not continue to be adversely affected because of poor planning and management of the KLIA.
The Penang State Government should formally propose to the Federal Government to restore some of the Penang-based MAS flights to and from Penang using the Subang Airport - say one third of the daily number of flights - which will definitely boost the passenger load on MAS flights - and be a win-win situation, both for MAS as well as the Penang economy and tourism.