GEORGE TOWN - With only days left to the year-end, the last few planes flying to Penang International Airport (PIA) for the year will be helping to break the airport’s record of annual passenger flow.
PIA, Malaysia’s oldest airport, is all set to surpass last year’s performance by well over 500,000 flight passengers shuffling in and out of the terminal.
It will record more than 7.8 million arrivals and departures this year, trumping last year’s record of 7,231,598. In 2016, the passenger flow was 6,684,026.
But PIA is built to handle a maximum of 6.5 million travellers a year and – in the words of air travellers interviewed – it is now “bursting at the seams” and “cannot take in even one more plane”.
State Tourism Development Committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin said December was PIA’s super-peak month with 608,010 in 2015, 650,278 in 2016 and 700,659 in 2017.
“Between this January and October, the airport’s passenger flow was between 585,000 and 682,000 a month, and we expect this month’s flow to pass the 700,000 mark again,” he said.
The spike this month, he said, would be the result of many alluring festival and events such as Christmas Jazz, Penang International Dragon Boat Festival, Penang Chingay, Lion and Dragon Dance Parade and Pesta Pulau Pinang.
Yeoh said PIA broke its expected 6% growth rate and the month-on-month comparison for October of 643,539 (this year) and 602,198 (last year) showed and increase of 7.8%.
State Works Committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said the expansion planning had taken on a new angle because the state was pushing for the airport to be able to handle 16 million passengers a year.
It was previously reported that the expansion plan was for 10 million a year.
“We will hit 10 million in a few years, so we must plan for the future,” Zairil said.
He said the planning stage now was critical because to expand the airport so substantially, a great deal of technology and architectural ingenuity was needed to prevent problems in the future.
“PIA can handle up to eight million passengers a year now, if we push its limits to the maximum, but then we will likely reach that by the end of next year so we are actively engaging with the Federal Government and Malaysia Airports Bhd to speed up the process,” he said.
The present PIA is the country’s oldest airport, having been built in 1935 when Penang was part of the British-ruled Straits Settlement.
It underwent a major upgrade in 1979 to accommodate Boeing 747s, then the largest planes in the world. The terminal saw two significant facelifts in 2009 and 2013.
Former Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi, who was at the airport recently, said the departure hall felt “like a pasar malam”.
“There are renovation works in the area that used to get flooded when it rains. So everyone waiting for flights are cramped upstairs,” he said.
Penang Tourist Guides Association president Chin Poh Chin said she did not feel the airport could handle anymore planes because with the lack of extra counters, any sudden surge of passenger groups will lead to long queues and waiting times.