Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said that airport, currently the second busiest in the country, was handling some 7.9 million passengers a year, just 1.1 million short of its capacity.
“We have submitted some suggestions and opinions for the federal government to consider.
“With the tourism growth from China to KK, we will be facing maximum capacity very soon. This will pose a big challenge for us as the only way the industry can grow is through tourism arrivals via air and we need sufficient accessibility,” said Masidi.
The state has recently welcomed it’s biggest tourism numbers yet, at 3.6 million tourists with Chinese tourists being the largest in the international segment. Out of 186 international flights in Sabah per week, 86 are from China.
Having been aware of the tourism growth potential and capacity, Masidi said the state has been looking at “all options” which includes expanding the current runway out to sea, and building a new airport in Kimanis, about 60km outside the state capital.
Both proposals have been up in the air for awhile, but also came with several issues.
He said a new runway out at sea could be a new innovative idea, but could run into environmental issues.
“As far as we can, we want to avoid that. We can study the feasibility of it,” he said.
As for the new building proposal, Masidi said that the proposed piece of land they had been looking at had been developed, adding some complications to the process.
“We are also looking into diverting some flights to the east coast. It’s not easy to convince tourists to change their destination but I believe once security becomes more manageable, we can push some flights there.
“Whatever it is, it will take some planning. We will see which is the most viable and practical,” he said, adding that they were also looking at temporary solution in the interim should matters come to a head.
Sabah’s east coast, while home to some of most picturesque and undiscovered islands in the country, has in previous years been a hotbed for cross border crime, particularly kidnap-for-ransom which has scared tourists away.
Currently, Semporna, jump off point to world class dive sites like Sipadan island, has seen a tourism boom due to Sabah’s reputation as an island destination, and it’s streak is expected to continue while security remains under control.