Indonesia aims to open up east with new airport

MAKASSAR, Indonesia, Sept 26 (Reuters) - A new airport in the capital of cocoa-and-coffee-producing South Sulawesi province officially opened on Friday, paving the way for an increase in tourism and trade in Indonesia’s eastern islands.

Indonesia’s government has said it needs to spend billions of dollars modernising and building new infrastructure, including roads, ports, power plants and airports in order to increase economic growth.

The Sultan Hasanuddin airport in Makassar, which bears a faint resemblance to the Norman Foster-designed Chek Lap Kok airport in Hong Kong, can handle up to 7 million visitors a year, or twice the expected number for 2007, and cost about 1.3 trillion rupiah ($139 million).

With the opening of a longer runway by the end of next year, bigger aircraft will be able to land, paving the way for more international flights.

“The seven million passengers target can be achieved next year,” said Akhmad Munir, spokesman for PT Angkasa Pura I, the state firm which operates 13 airports in Indonesia including Sultan Hasanuddin.

That will make it Indonesia’s third-largest airport, after Jakarta’s Soekarna-Hatta and Bali’s Ngurah Rai, based on the number of visitors, he said.

“This airport is the most luxurious one in the eastern part of Indonesia. Hopefully, the airport can stimulate other sectors to grow,” said Eddy Amiruddin, the airport’s air traffic director.

Visitors to the new airport, which was inaugurated on Friday by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said they were impressed by its modern design and size, as the new, 51,000-square-metre terminal is nearly four times the size of the old one.

“I think this is the best airport I have ever seen in Indonesia,” said an Indian-born manager from a cocoa-exporter in Makassar.

Malaysia's AirAsia Bhd AIRA.KL is currently the only airline offering international flights to Makassar, from Kuala Lumpur.

The airport still uses the old 2,600-metre (8,530 ft) runaway as the new 3,100-metre runaway is still under construction. (Reporting by Aloysius Bhui; Editing by Sara Webb) (; +6221-384 6364 ext 913) ($1=9375 Rupiah)