Mataram. The long-awaited Lombok International Airport is scheduled to become operational on Saturday at 10 a.m., officials announced on Friday, as the closure of the old airport led to confusion and cancellations.
A Garuda flight from Jakarta would be the first to land at the new airport, said I Ketut Erdi Nuke, general manager of state airport operator Angkasa Pura I at Lombok’s Selaparang Airport.
The opening of the airport was delayed several times in recent years for various reasons, including budget issues, theft of construction materials and land and environmental disputes.
But with Indonesia aggressively promoting Lombok and neighboring Sumbawa to compete against Bali as top tourist spots, a new airport was severely needed. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has set a target of one million visitors for the two islands by 2012.
With the new airport in Tanak Awu coming into operation, in the Pujut subdistrict of Central Lombok, Selaparang Airport was officially closed at 6 p.m. on Friday.
At the old airport, three flights were canceled on Friday, with hundreds of passengers stranded as a result. Airlines apparently had failed to anticipate the closure.
Lion Air and Wings Air canceled flights to Jakarta, Surabaya and Denpasar not long before scheduled departure. Passengers were asked to remain calm and were promised they would depart from the new airport the next day and spend the night at a nearby hotel. A number of angry passengers demanded refunds as some said they had planned to proceed on international flights.
“The cancelation by Lion Air may cost me dearly. I have to continue my trip to India on a Rp 5.6 million ($640) ticket and I also spent Rp 900,000 for a visa,” a passenger named Fauzan said.
A Briton who requested to be identified only as Alex said he had a ticket for Denpasar but was not notified about the cancelation. “I know a new airport is going to operate, but I heard nothing about the cancellation from Wings Air,” he said.
Erdi said the calibration of the navigation equipment at the airport already had been taken care of by the Transportation Ministry. He said that its director general for air transportation had signed off on operational certification for the new airport earlier on Friday.
“There should be no more problems, and we hope everything will go smoothly,” he said.
Under the watchful eye of police and military personnel guarding the new airport, however, workers were still busy with finishing touches on the eve of the airport’s opening.
“We have been told to repaint some furniture that had already been delivered two years ago and needed a new coat of paint,” said Nyoto, adding that he had been working overtime for days.
Workers could also be seen working on the airport’s electrical installations, and several glass window panels were not yet in place on Friday.
The Rp 945.89 billion airport is located some 40 kilometers southeast of Mataram, the capital of West Nusa Tenggara. Its runway is 2,750 meters long and 40 meters wide, allowing large-bodied aircraft such as the Airbus 330 or the Boeing 767 to land. The terminal can process some three million passengers a year.