Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said 7.9 million passengers had used the airport throughout 2017, with 3.68 million tourists arrival. Pic by STR/MOHD ADAM ARININ

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is scrutinising recommendations to improve the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) capacity in an effort to address increased flights and tourist arrival into the state.

Among the suggestions made were to expand the existing KKIA facilities into the sea via reclamation as well as build a new runway and construct a new airport.

The KKIA Terminal 1 had emerged the second busiest airport in the country after Kuala Lumpur International Airport, with an annual capacity of nine million passengers.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said 7.9 million passengers had used the airport throughout 2017, with 3.68 million tourists arrival.

"If we look at the increasing number of tourists, especially from China and South Korea, to Sabah and particularly Kota Kinabalu, we will face a possibility of reaching the maximum capacity in the near future," he told reporters after attention the Ministry's inaugural assembly here, today.

"This is something which will eventually become a challenge for KKIA to allow more aircrafts to park.

“Therefore we had taken into considerations the proposals by various quarters. All options are being fined tuned and when the time comes, the government will choose the most practical and viable option," he stressed.

On airport expansion and additional runway construction, Masidi said the state government would conduct thorough study to determine whether the recommendations are viable as it affect the environment.

"Expansion works involve land reclamation and this is something we are always trying to avoid," he said.

Masidi said building a new airport would take time and stressed that land matters and cost will also be among the challenges faced.

Among locations suggested for the construction of new airport in the past was Kimanis in Papar District.

However, as time passed by, the landscape has changed and the proposed land has been used by (land owners) to build houses.

Masidi stressed Sabah needed to manage issue, adding the state can only grow in terms of tourist arrival if its airport is sufficient to carter to the arrival of visitors.

He noted the Ministry and Sabah Tourism Board were also looking at diverting some flights to Sabah's east coast namely Sandakan and Tawau as temporary option to reduce overcrowding at KKIA.

On Chinese tourist arrivals for Chinese New Year festive celebration, Masidi said the state was ever ready to accommodate visitors in spite of the peak season with hotels being fully booked until next month.

On human-elephant conflict development, Masidi said a meeting has been conducted between the Sabah Wildlife Department, people's representatives and local community to find effective solution to tackle the matter.

"We understand and sympathies with the people. We are always finding efforts to reduce, if not eliminate, problems related to crops damage due to rampaging elephants," he said.