The race is on to complete construction at the new Lombok International Airport in central Lombok in time for the latest announced opening date – 1 October 2011.
We have been hearing announcements of the airport’s imminent opening now for over two years and, for many, the latest announcement may be a case of “cry wolf”. We visited the airport site for one of our regular updates on Thursday, 8 September 2011 and can confirm that work at BIL (Bandara Internasional Lombok) is in fact being fast-tracked. However, whether it will be ready to open on 1 October is debatable.
As on each occasion we have visited the airport site in Tanak Awu, the grounds surrounding the airport remain overgrown with weeds, although some attempt to clear it has been made by local farmers collecting feed for their cows. The car park and roadside verges are all in poor condition with broken paving and rampant weeds. Landscaping is desperately needed and unlikely to be complete by 1 October.
More worrying are the sections of missing concrete and incomplete drainage systems in the aircraft landing area, adjacent to the two passenger boarding bridges, and the large areas of dirt and construction debris on either side of the terminal entrance.
The façade of the main terminal building is still dominated by scaffolding as workers attempt to finish the outside walls. Entering the building, we were amused to see that the concrete support pillars that we photographed months ago showing water damage and concrete cancer have now been covered with shiny aluminium casings. Likewise, the chrome railings on the stairways have been cleaned but are still covered in rust spots.
Inside, the terminal is a hive of activity as a reported 300 employees are working 20 hour days, seven days a week, in the race to finish the airport.
The airport itself is divided into two sections – a domestic terminal and an international terminal, with separate departure and arrival areas, and waiting rooms, together with retail shop spaces and related airport facilities, such as immigration control, etc.
Walking through the huge and largely empty spaces, there is evidence of what each section will look like when complete. Baggage conveyors are installed but not yet operating. Escalators that had been partially assembled for the past 8 months are now installed. In a cavernous room in the domestic terminal, three workers sat on the floor painstakingly assembling seats for the waiting room.
On the second floor, gaps in the ceiling show where electrical wiring still needs to be installed; there are no lights or fire safety systems as yet. Another team of workers were trying to fit glass panels into hundreds of metres of empty frames.
Security tried to prevent us from entering the third floor; with good reason. This is the area of the airport destined to house the so-called sky bridge and airport restaurant. As in the past, the space is a mess with much work still to be carried out. Walls, ceilings, electrical wiring and windows are yet to be completed and most of the area is open to the elements. When asked about the “sky restaurant” a senior airport official told us that tenders are yet to be sent out for a restaurant operator. If the airport does manage to open by 1 October, don’t expect to be dining there any time soon.
Security at the airport is tight, with an estimated 200 security officers now securing the premises and making it difficult to gain entry. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Pak Eko Permadi, Head of Risk Management and Security for the airport developer, PT Angkasa Pura I.
Pak Eko assured us that the delays to the airport’s opening were over and that PT Angkasa Pura I are determined to have construction completed by 1 October. When asked if reports in other Lombok media that the Indonesian President would arrive to open the airport on 1 October were true, he said that it was unlikely; adding that 1 October would be the “soft opening” date for the airport.
“Soft opening” is a term often used in Indonesia, meaning a type of trial period at the commencement of operating a project. He said the President was more likely to arrive around mid-October for the Grand Opening ceremony.
Pak Eko said that the construction of the terminal was nearing completion, with finishing of the second floor scheduled in the next couple of weeks. The marble floors throughout the 21000 sqm building would then need to be polished; he estimated another 10 days to complete this work.
The list of work still to be done seems exhaustive, including setting up check in areas, customs and immigration control, visa processing, baggage handling, first aid post, emergency services, retail shops and more.
“Our schedule includes ‘Testing and Commissioning’ to take place on 15 September, followed by ‘Simulation’ (including calibration of equipment) on 17 or 18 September,” Pak Eko stated, adding, “Selaparang Airport will close for good on 30 September and BIL will open on 1 October, with all flights being directed to the new airport.”
Simulation includes a landing at the airport, although passengers will not disembark. According to Pak Eko, three planes have already tested the runway at the airport; although all have been smaller narrow-body aircraft, including a 10-seater plane operated by the Indonesian Air Force. To date no wide-body planes or larger aircraft, such as those operated out of Selaparang Airport by Garuda and Lion Air, have landed at the airport.
Selaparang Airport will officially close on
30 September 2011
According to Pak Eko, Selaparang Airport would be closed at 30 September and equipment – including the “crash cars”, x-ray machines and some ground handling equipment – would then be moved to BIL and assembled there in time for the opening on 1 October.
When questioned on what would happen if BIL wasn’t completed in time, Pak Eko insisted that the airport would commence operating on 1 October, adding “It will be ready. The documents have already been lodged with the Civil Aviation Authority. Selaparang will cease operating on 30 September and BIL will open on 1 October.”
Indeed, we have copies of documents from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation that confirm that “Selaparang Airport Mataram will be closed totally as from 10.00 on 30 September 2011” and “As from 01 October 2011 at 02.00 all incoming and outgoing aircraft shall use the new Lombok International Airport – Praya.”
When pressed for a contingency plan in the event of Selaparang being closed and BIL not being ready to open, Pak Eko reluctantly replied, “In that case, aircraft will be re-directed to land at Bali and a shuttle service will operate to BIL’s domestic terminal.”
We take this to mean that, in the event of BIL not being operational by 1 October, international flights will diverted to Bali’s Ngurah Rai Airport and domestic flights will transfer passengers to Lombok International Airport. It is assumed that priority will be given to making the domestic section of the terminal building at least functional by 1 October.
Pak Eko confirmed that Garuda, Merpati, Trans Nusa, Lion Air and all airlines that currently operate out of Selaparang Airport will operate from BIL as from 1 October.
When asked which international airlines would operate out of the new airport, he answered that Garuda and Silk Air would provide international services (as they currently do from Selaparang). The government has yet to market to other international airlines, although it is believed that Air Asia is interested in commencing a service between Australia and Lombok.
Having seen the progress to date, and seeing how much work still has to be completed in just three weeks (at the time of our visit,) the closure of Selaparang Airport seems premature and is worrying news. If the 1 October deadline isn’t met, or testing and simulation show problems, Lombok could well be temporarily without an airport.
The abrupt closure of Selaparang, located between Ampenan and Mataram cities, is also unwelcome news for businesses and residents located in the tourism areas of Senggigi and the Gili Islands.
Lombok International Airport is located approximately 40 km south of Mataram, and 49 km southeast of Senggigi. We tested the route on 8 September by catching a local taxi and using the new airport link road currently under construction.
The one-way taxi fare from Senggigi to BIL was Rp 140 000; as opposed to around Rp 40 000 to Selaparang Airport. Travelling time from Senggigi to BIL was 74 minutes; compared to around 20 minutes to Selaparang.
Roadwork leading from the airport to the West Lombok administrative centre of Gerung is progressing well, but will not be complete by 1 October. The new bridge, in particular, will still take several months to construct. Even when complete, this road will only cut around 15 minutes from the travelling time between Senggigi and the airport.
Once the dual carriage airport access road joins to the local roads north from Gerung, traffic is relatively heavy, especially with trucks and local buses using the road to Lembar Harbour. Added to this is the problem of many small rural villages located in the area, which hold regular parades and wedding processions on the road. Many hoteliers fear that buses and hotel vehicles may need up to 2 hours to provide airport transfers for their guests.
While the new airport will almost certainly open up development in the south of the island, we predict that more people will start using fast boat services to access the more popular west and north coast tourism areas. Fast boats are already a popular option for many people travelling to the Gili Islands from Bali and several operators, including Gili Cat and Blue Water Express, also provide transfers from mainland Lombok to Bali.
While the fares for fast boats have been seen by some as expensive in comparison to price of domestic flights between Bali and Lombok, the added cost of transport to BIL and a minimum one hour trip now makes the fast boats a highly competitive option. If ever there was an opportunity for a savvy fast boat operator to start a service operating out of Senggigi Beach, now is the time!
At the time of going to press, it is almost impossible to predict whether BIL will be completed by 1 October. Much depends on the determination of airport management and how much the crews working 20 hour rotating shifts at the airport can achieve in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, turn to page 32 for our pictorial story on the current progress…
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