Province looks forward
to international airport

Yuli Tri Suwarni, The Jakarta Post, Bandung

Ahyani stood patiently outside Husein Sastranegara Airport in Bandung as he waited for his flight. Despite the heavy rain, the father of three was not interested in joining the other passengers in the lobby.

""It's really crowded inside, you won't get a seat. It's really uncomfortable,"" said Ahyani, a resident of Sukajadi, Bandung, who travels abroad at least twice a month.

Opened in 1930, Husein Sastranegara Airport allows Bandung to be part of a flight network involving other cities in Indonesia and abroad, but it is in bad condition.

Ahmad Thamrin, a Bandung native who now lives in Kuching, Malaysia, said he had had a ""queer"" experience once when he arrived back from Kuala Lumpur.

""While our bags were being checked, I saw a lot of pails in front of the scanner. It turned out that the pails were there to catch rain water dripping through leaks in the ceiling,"" said Thamrin, who added that he doubt that the airport in its current state would be able to accommodate a larger number of passengers.

Ahyani said he was not impressed by the number of aircraft that departed from Bandung.

""Today, for domestic flights, there are only airplanes plying the routes from Bandung to Halim Perdanakusumah Airport in Jakarta, Juanda Airport in Surabaya and Hang Nadim Airport in Batam,"" he said.

Overseas flights by Air Asia from Bandung to Kuala Lumpur leave every day and Merpati links Bandung and Singapore three days a week.

""As the choice is limited, many people prefer to fly from Soekarno-Hatta airport, where flight destinations are varied and the cost is lower. We can choose the right flight that suits our budget and need,"" Ahyani said.

With the choice of routes limited, the airport sees around only 600 passengers a day.

Husein Sastranegara airport, which is located in the west of Bandung municipality, occupies a total of 1,300 hectares with the runway measuring 2,220 meters in length.

""Ideally, if an airport is intended for wide-bodied airplanes like the Boeing 737-500, for example, the runway must be at least 3,000 meters in length,"" Resmi Wandi, chief of PT Angkasa Pura II Husein Sastranegara, said.

""Owing to the condition of the runway, the airport cannot accommodate a lot of airplanes. A wide-bodied aircraft wishing to land from the West, for example, will be blocked by Mount Bohong in Cimahi,"" Wandi added.

Following the opening of the Bandung-Kuala Lumpur route in 2002, passenger numbers have risen. Every day, Air Asia's Boeing 737-300, with a full capacity of 148 seats, takes an average of 100 passengers. In addition, Citylink flights to Surabaya also enjoy an average occupancy rate of 80 percent.

Today, the average number of passengers stands at 216,000 people a year, a big increase from 20,000 in 1999 but is still lower than before the 1997 economic crisis, when it was around 227,000.

While efforts to improve the airport's facilities and infrastructure are needed, the West Java provincial administration plans to construct an international-level airport in Majalengka, some 75 kilometers north-east of Bandung.

West Java Governor Danny Setiawan says the new airport is needed to match the vast potential traffic of air passengers and cargo.

The new airport, he says, will not only facilitate international flights to West Java and vise versa, thus boosting the province's exports, but will also help ease the burden of Sukarno-Hatta international airport, whose air traffic is beyond capacity.

""Owing to limited land, Soekarno-Hatta airport can no longer be expanded. So, I'd like to move overloaded flight activities in Jakarta to the east, hoping that it provides a stimulus to investment here,"" Danny told reporters after the release of the plan before the legislative assembly building.

The new airport will have a 3,500-meter long runaway and will occupy a plot of land measuring 1,800 hectares.

Integrated with the development of business estates, hotels and shopping centers, the area may expand to some 5,000 hectares.

People in six villages will have to be relocated to make way for the project.

The administration claims they have had interest from investors in the project, which is estimated to cost Rp 25.4 trillion. The investors come from Malaysia, Singapore, China, Japan, Britain, German and United Arab Emirates.

Construction begins next year and the new airport is expected to start operation in 2010.

""Our target is that the airport can be used by 7 million passengers in the first 10 years,"" Iwan Dermawan, chairman of the committee for international airport development, said.

The topographic aspect is the main reason for the choice on Majalengka as the international airport site.

The regency is located some 40 meters above sea level and has generally flat surface, a feature ideal for a runway. In addition, in the last five years, the velocity of the wind has been quite modest at 10 knots, therefore allowing safe landings.

A toll road connecting Bandung with the airport will have to be built from Bandung to Cirebon, a town at the beachfront of Java Sea.

Governor Danny says a Chinese investor is interested in investing in the construction of the toll road which will encompass Cileunyi, Sumedang, Dawuan and Cirebon.

Is an international airport important for West Java?

Some legislators at the House of Representatives have questioned why the West Java provincial administration is so enthusiastic about constructing an international airport in the context of stimulating regional economy.

When visiting Husein Sastranegara airport last year, the chairman of Commission V of the House, Erman Suparno, asked that a detailed study be made on the matter.

He also asked the provincial administration to study carefully matters related to the potential number of passengers. The number of tourists visiting West Java by air, he argued, was still small.

Yulianti Tanyadji, a lecture of planning design at Tarumanegara University, cautioned against excessive enthusiasm and said the plan was a natural consequence of regional autonomy laws.

""Too much money has been invested in too many airports. What are these airports for?"" Yulianti said.

With Bandung only about three hours drive from Jakarta, prospective passengers have easy access to Soekarno-Hatta airport, where they have more choices of flight routes.

""We must make sure that Bandung needs a high air mobility rate like Jabotabek (Greater Jakarta). We must always bear in mind that Jakarta is a trade center while Bandung is a think tank,"" she noted.

When asked about the plan for the new airport, both Ahyani and Thamrin said they would rather depart through Husein Sastranegara than Soekarno-Hatta.

Ahyani suggested that the West Java provincial administration learn from Yogyakarta. Governor Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, upon learning about the plan to relocate Adisucipto airport, insisted a thorough study that would prove the current airport was really overloaded.

Thamrin suggested the administration improve the facilities and infrastructure of the Husein Sastranegara rather than spend huge sums of money on new airport.

With only 20 airplanes coming and going at Husein Sastranegara airport every day, there are no landing and taking-off activities between 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. in the afternoon. More flight routes could be pursued to accommodate the passengers needs.

In this respect, the most important thing to consider is that a project must always be based on local needs. Eventually, the choice will be either to have a small but robust, or big but with uncertain prospects.

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