Brighter days ahead for Senai Airport14 May 2016, by MALAY MAIL

There is plan to upgrade the Senai Airport in anticipation of higher traffic volume. — file pic
There is plan to upgrade the Senai Airport in anticipation of higher traffic volume. — file pic

JOHOR, May 14 — Things are looking up for Senai Airport. Passenger growth, both domestic and international, is on the increase and an expansion plan for the airport is in place.

It may not be the country’s busiest nor the largest, but Senai Airport is fast catching up. What was once described as a sleepy little airport is now awakening to the fact that it has a major role in civil aviation.

On May 29, an inaugural flight to the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou will take off, making it the first time Senai Airport will host a direct flight to China. The Philippines is on the horizon and Shanghai and Beijing could be next. Haadyai and Bangkok are already on the list.

Ho Chih Minh, Vietnam’s bustling southern city, has a passenger load which would keep airlines smiling and we can also expect to see a steady stream of passengers from the Indonesian cities of Bandung, Surabaya and Jogjakarta.

The domestic routes include Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ipoh, Kota Baru, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu and other East Malaysian towns.

Senai Airport served 2.58 million domestic and international passengers last year. This figure represents a 100 per cent increase from the total volume five years ago, making it the sixth busiest airport in the country behind Kuala Lumpur International Airport (almost 49 million passengers), Kota Kinabalu (6.5 million), Penang International Airport (6.2 million), Kuching (4.7 million) and Subang Airport (3 million).

Passenger growth at the airport has been steady over the past 10 years and the authorities are in talks with more airlines to make Senai their hub.

They include MojoAir, a privately-funded airline with the Malaysian government as the major partner. Malindo Air will also start flying to Sepang from Senai beginning Monday. Talks are also ongoing to lure a China-based airline.  

“The aim is to bring more international flights to Senai Airport and at the same time to serve the country’s main domestic routes,” said the aiport’s chief executive officer Md Derick Basir.

To ensure Senai Aiport stays on track with its projection to surpass the three million passenger mark by the end of the year, expansion and upgrading works will start soon.

Seven more check-in counters will be added to the existing 16. Sixteen more retail and food and beverage outlets will be created. The duty free outlets, which Md Derick described, as the “soul of an airport” will also be expanded.

“We have room to expand and live up to the expectations and demands of an international airport. We have to think long term. Retail and F&B outlets and duty free shopping are avenues for us to explore,” said Md Derick.

It’s obvious he has the Chinese passengers in mind. They are known for their shopping, with liquor, watches and branded handbags as their choice items.

“With no direct flights from the Chinese cities currently, they tend to come to Johor Baru via KL International Airport or Changi Airport in Singapore. AirAsia’s JB-Guangzhou flight at the end of the month will change things. With the Chinese now ready to invest in the Iskandar Region, the market for more direct flights from major cities will increase” he added.

Attracting Singaporeans to use the Senai Airport as their gateway to popular holiday destinations in Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries is also on the cards.

The cheaper ringgit vis-a-vis the Singapore dollar is a factor.

An estimated 50,000 Singaporeans came through Senai Airport last year to make their way to other destinations in the country or Thailand.

The strength of their dollar is an obvious reason and the notorious traffic situation at the Causeway especially during weekends does not deter them.

I believe Singaporeans will still go to where they will find value for money. People will argue that we lose out in terms of connectivity and frequency of flight to Changi Airport. But that’s obvious. It is the world’s No 1 airport.

“But Senai can capitalise on its proximity to Singapore and the much

cheaper cost to lure Singaporeans here,”  said Md Derick.

Senai saw 300,745 passengers on its international route last year and 2.28 million on its domestic route. Kuala Lumpur remains the No 1 domestic destination, with almost a million passengers flying out to KLIA and Subang Airport.

Senai Airport, as my travel agent friend once told me, will always have to live in the shadow of Changi Airport.

“But that’s inevitable, given the reputation they have built over the years and the investment the Singapore government has poured in. But as long as Senai can serve a niche market, like serving shorter flights to Southeast Asian cities, it can survive. Once the railway link between Johor Baru and Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) system happens, Singaporeans might come to Senai in droves to fly to their preferred destinations.

“Malaysians also dread crossing over to Singapore to catch a flight, especially during peak hours. But because of the connectivity and the variety of flights available from Changi, what choice have we got,” said a travel agent.

Senai Airport has great potential. Let’s hope those in authority are given the mandate to take it to greater heights.

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