Our guest writer today is Roger Teoh, who is doing his PhD in transport studies in Imperial College in London:
The proposal to construct a new northern region airport, as quoted by the Penang chief minister might not be necessary. The Penang International Airport in its present state is already serving as a northern corridor international airport.
For the current upgrading works for the Penang Airport: Building a new terminal and increasing airside equipment is sufficient to solve current capacity shortages. This will allow the airport to handle more passengers at a much lower cost without the need to construct new airports and runways around the region.
Rationale on why building a new terminal can be justified in the Penang Airport, but not additional runways and new airports: Taking London Gatwick Airport for an example (a single runway airport), the aircraft movements (total number of flights taking-off and landing) at London Gatwick Airport were 282,000 flights in 2017, versus 70,609 flights for Penang International Airport.
In other words, this comparison shows that existing infrastructure can be used more efficiently, where the number of aircraft movements in the existing runway of Penang Airport can handle at least four times more aircraft movement with further optimisation. This optimisation to boost runway capacity in the current airport can be easily achieved, given that the airspace above Penang is not congested relative to the London airspace, which is one of the busiest in the world.
As for the Penang chief minister’s statement that if “the existing airport would be upgraded, it would only cater to demand for another 20 to 30 years. Hence, a newer airport was needed to meet the needs of the island.”
Well, that depends what assumptions were made in extrapolating the growth rate of the population, GDP, and air travel demands in Penang. Given that the Penang state government has a good track record of ludicrously overestimating the population and demand in existing infrastructure, it suggests that full capacity in the Penang Airport might not be reached so soon as projected by the Penang chief minister.
In fact, the further we extrapolate in time, the larger the uncertainties in our forecasts. It is not necessary to try to solve a problem today when it could only emerge in 30 years.
Moreover, using existing infrastructure more efficiently significantly cuts down the potential negative environmental and social consequences.