KUALA LUMPUR: Given Indonesia’s impending relocation of its capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan, Sabah’s road connectivity and air links must be improved for the state to tap the huge economic potentials of this development, in the context of BIMP-EAGA (Brunei-Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines – East Asean Growth Area), said former Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew.(photo)
Like Sabah, East Kalimantan, which is the second largest province in Kalimantan, is rich in natural resources like oil, gas, coal and gold.
The Tawau MP said she has been pushing for the expansion of the Tawau Airport and for its status to be upgraded to that of an international airport since 2018.
“In 2019, as Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, I led a delegation from the Ministry to meet with the relevant Federal Ministry over the matter. However, our application for expansion of the Tawau Airport was turned down.
“I urge the Federal Government to review our application in anticipation of the influx of tourists to Sabah once international borders are reopened in the near future,” Liew said in a statement here, Thursday.
According to her, the Tawau Airport has the capacity to accommodate the A320 aircraft. “Air Asia flew A320 into Tawau before the Covid-19 pandemic. The Tawau Airport’s passenger handling capacity is 1.4 million passengers. However, the airport exceeded this capacity in 2018 when it handled almost 1.7 million passengers, and by 2019, the figure had reached 2.4 million passengers. “
Liew, who is also Api Api Assemblywoman, said the business community in Tawau is waiting for the temporary suspension of flights from Tawau to Tarakan (in North Kalimantan) to be lifted, with the necessary standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place. “We hope the revival of this flight service is being considered too in the government’s economic recovery plan.”
For ease of communication, the Tawau MP expressed optimism that the Federal Government would consider the need to upgrade the 30km road from the Kalabakan district to Samarinda which is the largest city and the capital of East Kalimantan.
In retrospect, she said that as early as 2003, the Sabah Government had made efforts to explore the prospects of economic cooperation between Sabah and East Kalimantan in the areas of forging closer trade ties and promoting investments in agriculture, infrastructure and tourism, among other sectors.
Liew noted that the business fraternity was asking whether the Federal Government had any plans to re-establish direct air links between Kota Kinabalu and Balikpapan, the gateway to East Kalimantan.
The first direct Kota Kinabalu-Balikpapan flight service was inaugurated by Malaysia Airlines (MAS) in July 2003 to promote cross-border trading between Sabah and East Kalimantan. And in 2012, MASwings started its operations from Kota Kinabalu to Balikpapan but these were stopped after 2014.