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Airport to be Built on Bawean Island

Saif Bakham, a prominent figure on Bawean Island, was amazed when told an airport would be built connecting his home with the mainland.
His forehead wrinkled. “Is this really true? An airport? Built here on Bawean?” the 57-year-old Bawean resident asked The Jakarta Post on Friday. “Then their obsession is finally being realized,” he said darkly.
Bawean island lies 150 kilometers north of East Java in the Gresik regency and has 60,000 people.
Gresik’s Planning Board head Sarwadi says his administration plans to build an airport on one of the cliffs near Tanjungori in Tambak, in the next few years.

“If all runs smoothly, the airport will start operations in 2007,” he said.
The administration is preparing a 70-hectare plot of land for the airport, which will have a 900-meter runway. Only light aircraft will be able to land and take off.

The idea originated during a meeting between Malaysian and Singaporean businessmen and East Java Governor Imam Oetomo last year. At the meeting, the businessmen explained how much longer it took to travel from Surabaya to Bawean, compared with the time to travel by plane from Singapore to Surabaya.

“They said: ‘Why don’t you just build an airport on Bawean, it would be a lot faster’,” administration spokesman Suprawoto said.

A feasibility study was then conducted by a team from Surabaya’s Institute of Technology in January last year.

It was expected the airport would help open up Bawean as a tourist destination and would encourage growth in horticulture and fisheries.

Bawean has many potential tourist attractions. Beautiful coral reefs ring the island — especially on the beaches of Mayangkara near Kapuhteluk and around the smaller neighboring islands of Nusa, Cina, Karabile, East Gili and West Gili.

The island also has the Kastoba crater lake and several hot water springs. In the Kebuntelukdalam neighborhood there are also several scenic waterfalls.

Traveling by air, it would only take 15 minutes flying from Surabaya to get to the island. It usually takes three to 10 hours by sea from the port of Gresik on a passenger ferry.

Saif, however, was far from optimistic about the airport, which he said would only bring new problems. The money on the airport would be better off spent fixing existing infrastructure and shortages, he said.

He pointed to the construction of the grand fish landing harbor in Tanjungori. Conceived as a fishing port, it was supposed to become a fish trading center for fishermen in Bawean.

“Where are the results? From its inauguration in the mid-1990s until now it has remained empty,” he said.

Another urgent matter was the scarcity of fuel and electricity, which only met the needs of 10 out of the 30 villages on the island. “Not to mention the few paved roads, left over from the Dutch era,” he said.

Many of the island’s inhabitants were traditionally fisher folk. Now they were working in Singapore and Malaysia because of the poor job prospects at home. In Singapore, many worked in the informal sector — as parking attendants and construction laborers — sending part of their wages back home.

“The people cultivating the rice fields and trading on Bawean are people from Java,” Saif said.

Native Baweans also had little to do with development of the promising onyx stone quarry or tourism on the island.

Bawean, with its scattered hills, cliffs and its white beaches, could be as big a tourist spot as Bali, he said.

Local government had done little to encourage this industry, however. “Even with the (island’s) jetfoil boat — before that stopped service in middle of last year — not a single tourist has visited Bawean because of the lack of serious promotion,” he said.

Without an integrated approach to development on the island, an airport would be just another failed experiment, he said.(ID Nugroho, Surabaya)

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