The public and private sector in Indonesia is well aware that the lack of quality and quantity of Indonesia's infrastructure is one of the matters that hamper the economic development of the country. For that reason, the central government implemented the Masterplan to Accelerate and Expand Economic Development (MP3EI) in Indonesia, which foresees large investments in the country's infrastructure. Although results are not satisfying yet, the government is proud to have opened a new airport in North Sumatra.
Yesterday (25/07), all airport operations have been transferred from Medan's 85-year old Polonia International airport to the new Kuala Namu International Airport in Kuala Namu. This new 1,365-hectares wide airport is also important in the context of the ASEAN Single Aviation Market (ASEAN-SAM). The establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community, which aims for the member countries to become a more cohesive political and economic unity, stipulates the liberalization of air travel between the member countries starting from 2015. Kuala Namu is expected to become Indonesia's hub for air traffic in Southeast Asia as the new airport has a more strategic location to cities like Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bangkok compared to Jakarta's Soekarno- Hatta airport.
The old Polonia airport in Medan lacked decent infrastructure; runways were too short and there was no room for expansion as the airport is located in the city center of Medan. This location also implied serious risks for local residents. In September 2005, a Mandala aircraft crashed into a heavily-populated residential area shortly after take-off. Although plans for a new airport were discussed from the early 1990s, and initial construction began in 1997, the eruption of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 resulted in the postponement of the new airport. Construction resumed in 2006.
The Kuala Namu International Airport, Indonesia’s first airport designed to accommodate Airbus A380 double-decker jumbo jets, is now Indonesia's second largest airport (after Soekarno-Hatta International Airport just outside Jakarta). Construction costs of the airport amounted to IDR 4 trillion (USD $397 million) and were covered by state airport operator Angkasa Pura II and the Ministry of Transportation. The airport has an initial capacity of handling 8.1 million passengers per year (which is more than double the capacity of the older Polonia airport). By 2030, however, it is expected to have a capacity of 50 million passengers per annum.
Another interesting fact is that the Kuala Namu airport is Indonesia's first airport that is linked to a rail service. The train service, provided by Railink (a joint venture between Angkasa Pura II and Kereta Api Indonesia) can accommodate about 20 percent of the estimated 21,000 daily passengers that travel to the airport. Currently, this rail-track is the only means of transportation to the airport as the highway construction project has not been finished yet due to land compensation disputes with local residents. Tickets for the train, however, are very costly for Indonesian standards (IDR 80,000), resulting in public outcry.
The airport in Kuala Namu is not the only airport that has received government attention. In order to ramp up nationwide capacity of Indonesian airports, the central government replaced the Selaparang International Airport in Lombok by the new Lombok International Airport in October 2011. Other strategic airports have received a face lift. Indonesia's two most busiest airports, Soekarno-Hatta (close to Jakarta) and Ngurah Rai International Airport (in Bali), are being expanded.