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Run, Run, Run, Run . . . Runway

Bali's Future Tourism Growth Tied to Continuing Dilemma of How to Expand the Island's Sole Airport.

(9/1/2007) Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport holds a virtual monopoly as the gateway for foreign visitors to the Island as well as serving the nearly 3 million travelers who pass through its domestic arrival terminal each year. As such, the future of Bali's tourism and the airport's carrying capacity are inextricably intertwined.

With a length of 3,000 meters and a width of 45 meters, Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS) is too short and too narrow to handle the next generation of super-jumbo aircraft. Moreover, at its current length a fully-loaded and fully-fueled aircraft cannot take off from Bali's airport, requiring a intermediate stop at a larger regional airport in Singapore, Bangkok or Thailand before embarking on an extended long-haul intercontinental flight.

In order to keep pace with the technical operating requirements of the airline industry and local aspirations to grow tourism numbers, Bali's airport needs to urgently add 600 meters to its length and widen its runway to 60 meters. The implications of failing to expand landing capabilities may see airlines that now stop-over in Bali left with little choice but to bypass Bali in favor of more accommodative airports in the region.

And Here's the Rub

Aside from finding the necessary funding to expand the runway at Ngurah Rai and devising a means to engineer the rebuilding a facility whose sole runway serves as the main artery for Bali tourism, there are a number of other factors that make an upgrade of the island's runway problematic.

With the exception of the four-lane highway running past the current runway's eastern end connecting the main island to the Nusa Penida peninsula, the east-west runway of Bali's airport almost completely bisects the isthmus connecting the main island to the tourist-intensive South.

Expanding the length of the runway to the West would require the reclamation of seabed areas, raising fears that any change to the coast line would result in current flows that would erode nearby Kuta and Legian beach.

Alternatively, expanding the runway to the East would necessitate the destruction of protected mangrove forests; a move certain to raise the ire of environmentalists.

And, assuming an accord is finally achieved that would allow a eastward runway extension through the mangrove, the very real problem of how to maintain traffic access to the Nusa Dua and Ungasan areas will remain. Local cultural and religious beliefs make the obvious solution of a subterranean tunnel under the extended runway unpopular with the Island's majority Hindu population who have thus far successfully managed to resist the building of pedestrian bridges, highway tunnels and overpasses elsewhere on the Island. While rebuilding the current road to detour around an eastward runway extension would almost certainly necessitate an even larger sacrifice of protected mangrove forests.

Operating at near capacity, handling an estimated 6.25 million domestic and international passengers, and as many as 176 inbound and outbound flights each day - Bali's airport is quickly approaching it natural limits of how many passengers it can reasonably serve.