Lawas Airport
13/11/2022 04:02 PM

By Muhammad Ammar Shafiq Hamzah

LAWAS (Sarawak), Nov 13 (Bernama) -- “It feels like landing right in the centre of town" – perhaps, that's what comes to passengers' minds every time a small Twin Otter aircraft lands at Lawas Airport, located in the northern part of Sarawak.

Unlike other airports, located in open areas and far away from the city, Lawas Airport is only about 1.5 kilometres (km) from the city centre and its runway is less than 400 metres from the banks of Sungai Lawas.

Lawas currently has a Short Take-Off and Landing Airport (STOLport), which has been operating since 1961, and is seeing an increase in passengers and cargo, in line with the economic activities developed in the Lawas region, located about 1,000 km north of Kuching.

Today, however, the airport frequently faces various problems, such as flooded runways, that affect operations. In addition, the terminal building is outdated compared with current specifications, although it was upgraded in 1996.

The lack of a better airport is one of the infrastructural challenges in developing Lawas district, which is geographically separated from other parts of Sarawak as it borders the state of Sabah as well as the Kalimantan region of Indonesia and Temburong district of Brunei.

Faced with these challenges, the Sarawak government established the Northern Region Development Authority (NRDA) on March 15, 2018, to promote economic development in the Lawas and Limbang districts, which cover a total area of 7,790 sq km.

The NRDA, under its chairman, Sarawak Deputy Premier, Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan, has taken steps to build a new airport in the Sundar area, estimated to cost RM600 million.

For now, the land acquisition process is ongoing and phase one of the airport construction is expected to begin in the first quarter of next year, and to be completed by the end of 2026.

Speaking at the Sarawakku Sayang programme in Lawas recently, Sarawak Premier, Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg, disclosed that the construction cost will initially be borne by the state government, before the federal government reimburses it.

“For the benefit of the people of Lawas, we (the state government) will build our own airport. They have been waiting a long time (for a new airport). We will later discuss with the federal government to reimburse the cost of RM600 million,” he said.

The new airport is one of the efforts to integrate the Lawas area, which would be the catalyst for economic growth in the northernmost district of Sarawak, just like other areas in the Land of the Hornbills, even though Lawas is further to the north, Abang Johari said.

In order to steer the mission of developing the two districts in the northern part of Sarawak, the NRDA has also received funding of RM1.5 billion to come up with a comprehensive development plan.

“The NRDA will also continue with the development agenda, including the construction of a deep sea port in the Pulau Sari area, as well as the construction of a new highway,” said Abang Johari.

Lawas incumbent, Datuk Henry Sum Agong, said besides a new airport, the district desperately needs a port as a stopover for deep-sea vessels on Pulau Sari.

Henry Sum said that the port was important to provide additional facilities, especially for the transportation of certain goods and large cargo that cannot be carried by ordinary aircraft.

"The people of Lawas also request that the train service from Sabah, coming from the area of Sipitang (on the border with Lawas), be led directly here. I understand this is still under discussion. This is one of the projects that the residents here really want,” he said.

With such comprehensive development efforts planned by the Sarawak government through the NRDA, the landscape of Lawas will change in the coming years.

In the 15th General Election (GE15), Henry Sum will face Pakatan Harapan (PH) candidate, Japr Suyut, and Baru Bian from Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB), to defend the seat.

Polling is on Nov 19 and early voting is on Nov 15.