Malaysian aviation through the years

KUALA LUMPUR: The history of Malayan aviation began with the building of the Taiping Aerodrome, which was the first airport built in the peninsula.

The Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang opened its doors on June 27, 1998.
The Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang opened its doors on June 27, 1998.

The wooden building was constructed in early 1929 by the British for non-military use.

Reputed to be the first airport officially established in the Federated Malay States and Southeast Asia, it served as a commercial airport for British officers and European merchants, as well as the airstrip for the Royal Malay-sian Air Force. (RMAF).

The airport served short-distance destinations, such as to Alor Star, Kuala Lumpur and Penang. The Penang-Singapore flight routes ran a daily stop-by at the Taiping Airport.

It became famous when American aviator Amelia Earhart made a refuelling stop there on June 7, 1937, before continuing her journey to Singapore and New Guinea in her historic attempt to circumnavigate the globe.

The then Indonesian president Sukarno and his deputy, Mohammad Hatta, also landed in Taiping on Aug 12, 1945, to discuss the future of Malaya and Indonesia before continuing their journey to Tokyo. 

However, after the end of the Japanese Occupation, flights to other states were cancelled and the airport only served domestic routes in Perak. Only the Ipoh Airport was authorised to serve flights to other states.

The nation’s aviation history entered another chapter in 1956 when the then chief minister of the Federation of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, announced that the Sungai Besi Air Base would be upgraded to an international airport.

The Taiping Aerodrome is reputed to be the first airport officially established in the Federated Malay States and Southeast Asia. FILE PIX
The Taiping Aerodrome is reputed to be the first airport officially established in the Federated Malay States and Southeast Asia. FILE PIX

Before it was turned into a commercial airport, the airbase, which was then known as Sempang Airport, played an important role in air operations, particularly in defence.

The airport, which has a 273m-long runway, was turned into a British Air Force Base on June 1, 1941, and was known officially as the Royal Air Force (RAF) Station. 

Its role was to facilitate air operations in the country and act as a communication hub with the British military base in Seletar, Singapore. During the Japanese invasion in 1942, the base served as the RAF’s defence centre.

It served as the main airport for Kuala Lumpur from 1952 to 1965 until the role was taken over by the Subang International Airport. It has since operated as RMAF’s flight squadron and air defence base.

After operating for 77 years, the Sungai Besi Air Base ceased operations in March 2018 to make way for the ongoing Bandar Malaysia mega project.

Subang International Airport – 1975 Kuala lumpur

Subang International Airport was officially opened on Aug 30, 1965, and served as the country’s main gateway until 1998. 

The airport had three terminals — Terminal 1 for international flights, Terminal 2 for Singapore-KL shuttle flights and Terminal 3 for domestic flights. 

In 1996, the airport was renamed after Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Al-Haj, the eleventh Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the eighth Sultan of Selangor. By the end of 1997, Subang Airport handled 15.8 million passengers.

Although plans existed to convert the airport into a low-cost carrier hub, the change was opposed by Subang Jaya residents.

Subang Airport is currently the hub for Berjaya Air and Firefly commercial turboprop services. Transmile Air Services is the only other non-passenger non-turbo prop aircraft landing there. It utilises Subang Airport Terminal 2.

In 1998, the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) succeeded Subang Airport as the country’s main international entry point.

The groundbreaking of KLIA took place in 1993. The government, which was under the administration of the then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, felt that Subang Airport could no longer accommodate large volumes of passengers. 

KLIA opened its doors on June 27, 1998, just in time to usher in participants and spectators alike to the 16th Commonwealth Games, held in the country for the first time. It was considered as among the most distinguished structures in the world.

It has since been regarded as a world-class international airport and has won numerous awards from various international organisations such as UK-based consultancy Skytrax and the International Air Transport Association .

In 2004, six years after it first began operations, KLIA was recognised by Green Globe 21, the worldwide benchmarking and certification programme that facilitates sustainable travel and tourism for consumers, companies and communities.

The ‘New Sunday Times’ coverage on the opening of KLIA.
The ‘New Sunday Times’ coverage on the opening of KLIA. 

It was the first and only airport in the world to have attained the Green Globe certification. It went on to receive the same award for five consecutive years.

KLIA was first built with a capacity of 25 million passengers per annum (mppa) with two independent runways. The main terminal has since been optimised to handle up to 30 mppa.

KLIA has three runways that run at about 4km each to serve both the main terminal and second terminal, klia2. 

The airport caters to more than 60 airlines. It serves more than 120 direct destinations and more than 1,000 indirectly.

In May 2014, klia2 was opened just 2km away from KLIA. Built with a capacity of 45 mppa, it is the largest purpose-built terminal optimised for low-cost carriers. It was built to replace the previous Low-Cost Carrier Terminal.

klia2 currently serves low-cost carriers including AirAsia, AirAsiaX, Jetstar, Scoot and Cebu Pacific Airways.

By Teoh Pei Ying – NST

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