North Sumatra to get new
airport soon

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan

After repeated delays, the central government has renewed its promise to start the construction of Kuala Namu airport in Deli Serdang regency in September. The facility would replace North Sumatra's ailing Polonia airport in Medan.

The promise was made by State Minister of National Development Planning Paskah Suzetta in Medan on Thursday after consulting with Transportation Minister Hatta Radjasa.

""We plan to start Kuala Namu airport construction in September this year. We've chosen that month to mark the extraordinary incident that happened then. We want to use the moment to start Kuala Namu construction,"" he told The Jakarta Post after opening the province's national development planning meeting.

The extraordinary incident was the tragic Mandala airline crash near Polonia airport last September that killed 149 people, including the province's governor, T. Rizal Nurdin.

Paskah said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has paid close attention to the planned construction of Kuala Namu airport.

""President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has instructed related ministers to finish Kuala Namu airport construction as soon as possible,"" he said.

Paskah said construction of the airport will be funded through the state budget as well as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank. He could not reveal how much of the money would come from the state budget.

""I can't give you the figure now but apart from the state budget, we're currently working to get financial support from the ADB, the World Bank and other sources,"" Paskah said.

Chairman of the North Sumatra Development Planning Agency (Bappeda) RE Nainggolan said it would take at least Rp 4.4 trillion to build Kuala Namu airport.

""We hope the central government's promise to build Kuala Namu airport this September will be realized because the plan to move Polonia airport has been around for almost 10 years. The airport is no longer suitable (as an international airport) and many victims have died there,"" Nainggolan said.

A series of plane crashes have plagued the aging airport over the past three decades, killing more than 400 people.

Last year, a Mandala Airlines Indonesia Boeing 737-200 jetliner crashed in a heavily populated area next to Polonia, killing 102 people on board and 47 on the ground. Fifteen passengers survived the crash, the country's worst in eight years.

Other accidents at the airport in recent years include the crash of a Fokker F28-100 in 1979, which killed 64 people, a Dakota DC9-32 wreck in 1987, which killed 23 people, and a Garuda Airbus A300 crash in 1997, which claimed the lives of 234.

Investigators said the accidents were caused by a series of problems, including the limited size of the airport and its location on 144 hectares of land squeezed in between two rivers and bounded by residential areas.

Nainggolan said another problem is the length of Polonia's 2,900-meter runway, of which only 2,625 meters can be used.

Despite its status as an international airport, there's only one way to take off or land at Polonia, which poses problems for air traffic control. The airport is too small for medium- and wide-bodied aircraft, and nearby Mount Sibayak makes it difficult for aircraft on certain flight paths to maneuver.

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