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STOLport revival called into question
Posted on : 21 Feb 2019  Source of News: The Borneo Post Online

STOLport revival called into question

February 21, 2019, Thursday at 12:00 AM Churchill Edward & James Ling,

Move outdated, new airport in Sg Tunuh the way forward, says Masing

Temporary stalls erected by the Kapit District Council are seen near the disused STOLport runway.

KUCHING: Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad’s (MAHB) proposed move to revive the Short Take-Off and Landing airport (STOLport) in Kapit is an outdated idea, says Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Masing.

Masing, who is also Minister of Infrastructure Development and Transportation, said STOLport was used previously because both Kapit and Belaga were not connected by road to the rest of Sarawak.

He said with connectivity to Belaga already established, and with Kapit town set to be connected to Sibu via road in two years, the STOLport will be made redundant.

“The new proposal is to build an airport in Sungai Tunuh, which can at least cater for ATR aircraft.

“This is to provide, firstly, security for the three huge hydroelectric power dams in Bakun, Murum and Baleh which are near the border with Indonesia.

“Secondly, it is to create accessibility to Hose Mountains and Bakun Lake as ecotourism destinations, and thirdly, to create a food basket in the Sungai Tunuh area,” said Masing, who is Baleh assemblyman.

He added the Sungai Tunuh airport is also urgently needed to open up the central region of Sarawak within the Upper Rajang Development Agency (Urda) area, and that a feasibility study on this airport is currently being carried out.

MAHB, in a statement Monday to relevant agencies in Kapit including the Resident’s Office and District Council, announced its decision to revive the STOLport in Kapit which was discontinued in the 1990s.

When it was operational, the Kapit STOLport could accommodate Twin Otter aircraft, which serviced the Kapit-Sibu and Kapit-Belaga routes.

MAHB’s decision to reactivate the STOLport has received mixed reactions from the local community. Malaysian Armed Forces Veterans Association Kapit chairman Martin Bilun said the old STOLport location is no longer ideal due to the development in the surrounding area.

“We have several developments surrounding the airport including residential housing estates, government buildings, and swiftlet farming. These could be in danger if the airport is operational,” he said.

“It would be better if Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad could think of an alternative like the Tunoh Resettlement Scheme in Bukit Mabong District, as Tunoh is going to be developed into a district.

“With the close border proximity with the neighbouring country Indonesia, the airport will be vital to serve as a landing base for the army and also for commercial air transport. With the Baleh dam coming up, the security of the upper Baleh area needs to be preserved and hence an airport in Tunoh is vital to meet all these needs and challenges.”

For members of the business community, however, MAHB’s move is a step in the right direction.

“In terms of population and demand, there is a need to have an airport in Kapit. Kapit is strategically located midway between Song and Bukit Mabong districts. When the rural air service is revived, it would benefit the travellers of the three districts namely Song, Kapit and Bukit Goram, with a combined population of some 80,000 people,” said businessman Datuk Yong Hua Sying.

He called on the government to set up a central collection point (CCP) for farm products here.

“So that farmers could bring their produce like fruits to this CCP and then the cargo plane is able to fly the products to sell at urban centres. In this way, it helps to improve the rural economy where landowners are encouraged to open up land for farming,” Yong added.

Since it was left dormant, the STOLport runway has been used for other activities such as the Gawai bazaar, funfair, and night market trading.