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Does Bali Already Have a Second International Airport?

Editorial: A Practical Perspective on a Second Airport for Bali
The desire to build a second airport for Bali at Kubutambahan in northeast Bali has become a polarizing and emotional issue, with many local Balinese insisting there is a absolute need for a second airport in North Bali in order to achieve a more equitable distribution of tourism development. Some also contend that the building of a second international airport in Bali is a matter of cultural pride and self-determination for the Balinese.

But if emotional arguments are momentarily put to the side, the basic question remains: Does Bali truly need a second airport in the North?

Let’s briefly examine some of the pros and cons surrounding a second airport in Bali.

Carrying Capacity

Bali is already bursting at the seams in terms of tourist numbers with the Island’s ecosystem and physical infrastructure at risk of being overwhelmed. Badly managed development, poor enforcement of existing zoning and environmental codes, diminishing water supplies, traffic congestion, and widespread pollution and waste-management issues suggest Bali may have already reached its limits on carrying capacity.

The current airport in South Bali, only recently upgraded and expanded to handle 15 million passengers a year, is already at its limit and set to undergo a second expansion that will add a much-needed parallel runway projected to increase annual passenger capacities to 25 million.

While a second airport in North Bali would theoretically allow more flights and more passengers to visit Bali, any investment in a second international airport for Northeast Bali absolutely requires massive and simultaneous investment in a north-south rail or highway connection to the southern regions of the Island.

To say “build the new airport now and the road later” is both naïve and financially dangerous. If airlines are offered the chance to fly to even the most modern of airports that is connected to the rest of Bali by a two-lane, unimproved road, they will decline the invitation leaving the new airport devoid of both passengers and airplanes.

Airports as a Necessary Evil

While land speculators have been busily buying up land in northeast Bali in the hope of securing a financial windfall by selling their land to the airport authority, airports are generally seen as a financial burden and a necessary evil that bring with their development issues of noise pollution, air pollution and a diminished quality of life for those living under the approach and take-off paths of aircraft.

Does Bali Already Have a Second Air Gateway?

A strong argument can be made that Bali, in fact, already has a readily available and relatively affordable solution to the need for a second airport in the form of the Blimbingsari Airport located in Banyuwangi, East Java. Recently upgraded and slated to be expanded further to handle the largest commercial jets and serve international flights, using Banyuwangi as Bali's second air gateway makes sense on a number of levels.

Located just a short ferry ride from Bali's westernmost Port of Gilimanuk, passengers landing at Blimbingsari are only a short distance from Bali’s picturesque north coast.

Traveling from Denpasar, the drive to Gilimanuk can now take 3-4 hours over a winding and treacherous road, a time that could be reduced by perhaps half with the critically essential improvement of the 120 kilometer Denpasar – Gilimanuk highway. An improved highway between Denpasar and Gilimanuk would shrink travel times and truly make Banyuwangi’s airport a most attractive viable second air gateway for Bali.

And, whether or not you accept our arguments for Banyuwangi as an air gateway to Bali, the inescapable fact is that the national highway between Denpasar and Gilimanuk must be dramtically upgraded in the near future.

Once the road up Bali’s West Coast is improved, a connecting west-east roadway across the Island’s north shore could be built guaranteeing easier access and more investment in the economically marginalized regions of the Island.

Does Bali need or want a second airport? The answer is both "yes" and "no." By improving the road network connecting to Gilimanuk and modernizing ferry service between Gilimanuk and Ketapang (Banyuwangi), a second airport for Bali at the existing Banyuwangi (Blimbingsari) airport would provide a fast track solutions to the need for more air access for Bali minus the high cost and inconvenience that comes from building a new airport on the Island of Bali.

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