Kedah will be getting a new international airport, and while the people of the state are welcoming the news, neighboring Penang sees it as a threat to their own success.
The Penang international airport (PIA), which first opened in 1935 before going through a major expansion in 1970s post Japanese-British war, was claimed to be the best airport in the North Peninsular Malaysia. With two 3.5km-runaways, PIA has the capacity to handle 6.5 million passengers and up to 360,000 tons of cargo per year.
Penang is one of the most progressive and competitive states in Malaysia, with its airport named as the third busiest airport in the country after Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA).
Penang government takes pride on the success of this international hub, citing the endeavor of the Chinese majority community as the main driver behind the success.
According to Chow, the previous Malay-dominated ruling coalition Barisan Nasional had made multiple attempts to tone down the excellent performance of PIA and yet, had failed to do so. Now, under the governance of Pakatan Harapan, KXP is recognized as a new threat for PIA.
“There have been numerous attempts in the past six decades or so by those in power to reduce the significance of Penang’s attraction in the northern region…”
“There is no logical reason for a new airport in Kulim other than to punish Penang for its success,” he said.
What exactly will KXP be threatening?
Despite some economist and analyst claim that KXP is a suitable airport for handling cargo, Penang felt much threaten with the idea as it would affect the position of Penang as the most important airport hub in the northern Peninsular, citing PIA underutilized and budget constraint as the main reason, while undermined the economy benefit it would bring to the less-developed Kedah.
Besides, in an open letter written to Malaysiakini, Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy also citing the sentiment of Penangites as the reason the for the Federal government to review the project.
“I believe Putrajaya has failed to understand the sentiments of the people in Penang about the airport. They cannot assume that what is good for the federal government is necessarily good for the Penang state government.”
Stressed in his letter, II P Ramasamy said: “Let me reiterate: we in Penang do not oppose the KIA project, but we want the federal government to listen to our views.”
The idea of Kulim international airport would threaten the position of Penang being the most accessible international airport at North Malaysia. Citing Langkawi and Ipoh airport as the main competitor to Penang Airport, Penang Deputy Chief Minister failed to acknowledge that Langkawi did not have land access to the mainland as Penang do. Besides, Ipoh also sit closer to the center of Malaysia.
In the same time, another airport at the northern Malaysia, Alor Setar airport, only cater to domestic flights.
Kulim Hi-Tech Park
As Penang aspire to become the Silicon Valley in Malaysia, Kulim that sit about 50km away also set up an industrial park for high technology.
Seen as a proposal to rival Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, started in year 1996, the high-tech park was operated by Kulim Technology Park Corporation Sdn Bhd, a subsidy of Kedah State Development Corporation.
The proposed KXP was located between Kampung Teluk Banu and Kampung Sungai Karangan and would be around 10km, 10 min drive away from the Kulim Hi-Tech Park.
According to Kulim Hi-Tech Industrial Park local authority, multinational companies such as Panasonic, Intel, OSRAM, Infineon and Fuji Electric are some of the prominent companies that had set up factory in that industrial park.
Despite its’ aspiration to become a high technology industrial park, Kulim Hi-tech does not has its own international airport. The closest international airport to the park is Penang International Airport.
Neighboring each other, the development of Kedah and Penang were not parallel. In 2017, Penang has surpassed the World Bank’s threshold to be considered a high-come economy, with a GDP per capita of RM49,873.
In the same time, Kedah GDP per capita in 2017 stood at RM20,327, less than half of Penang. While Penang had developed into an industrial driven state, Kedah main economy activity remained as agriculture, named as the rice bowl of Malaysia.
To resolve the matter over the development of KXP, a meeting will soon be held between Chow and Kedah Chief Minister Dato’ Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, as well as the Transport Minister Anthony Loke, though the official date is yet to be determined.
Economist had long believed that competition is good for an economy, and netizens on Twitter mostly supporting this notion. If PIA was as outstanding as the state government claims to be, a little competition couldn’t be hurt.