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New airport on Tioman Island, Malaysia


Tioman is a small, densely forested, sparsely populated island attracting many tourists to its beautiful coastline with white sand beaches. A plan to build a new airport near the western coast of Tioman first emerged in 2003.[1] Construction was scheduled to commence in 2004, on reclaimed land off the coast of the village of Kampung Paya. But in 2009 then transport minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat called off the project. Potential environmental impacts, in particular damage to coral reefs and marine life were a key factor in his decision. The airport plan had also triggered strong protests in Kampung Paya and two neighbouring villages: Kampung Genting and Kampung Mukut.[2]

The airport plan re-emerged in June 2018. Vincent Tan, executive chairman of the Berjaya Group (also referred to as Berjaya Corporation Berhad), a major Malaysian conglomerate with many interests including tourist resorts, announced that he would submit a proposal to build a new airport in Tioman, in order to boost tourism. The company’s portfolio includes Berjaya Tourism Resort, a few kilometers north of the proposed airport site. Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB), the company managing most of Malaysia’s airports, cautioned that building a new airport on Tioman raised environmental concerns. MAHB director Badlisham Ghazali recalled that the previous plan for a new airport was not approved because construction would “spoil the beauty” of the island. Reef Check Malaysia, the local chapter of a global non-government organization (NGO) working to raise awareness of the importance of and threats to coral reefs, warned against the development, suggesting building an airport in Mersing, already a departure point for ferries to offshore islands including Tioman, instead. General Manager Julian Hyde said: “The (Tioman) airport would have inevitably meant further development of resorts and infrastructure, which could only cause additional damage to the island’s fragile ecosystems, both on land and underwater.”[1]

On 21st October 2018 about 80 people, comprising villagers, NGO members, divers and tourism resort operators, staged a protest against a new airport. The protest was led by Kampung Genting village chief  Azman Awang Mohd. Kampung Genting is the gateway to the island, with passenger boats arriving at the jetty. Reef Check Malaysia representative Alvin Chellian said that, as there was no suitable land available, land reclamation would be required to build the airport, which would damage the environment.[3] Chellian drew attention to the irreversible damage that the airport would cause to the coralreefs, sea grass beds, shorelines and white sandy beaches. He also argued that, in order to cope with rising numbers of tourists, Tioman requires improvement of existing infrastructure, not a new airport. Water supply, electricity supply waste treatment and disposal are all inadequate. There are regular water shortages on the island and the incinerator is unable to accommodate the volumes of waste that are being generated, and cannot deal with some types of waste such as electrical waste. Tioman will not be able to cope with an increased influx of tourists without infrastructural improvements to accommodate the visitor load.[4]

Islanders are also concerned that a new airport risks turning Tioman into another overcrowded tourism hotspot like Boracay Island in the Philippines or Maya Bay in Thailand, famous destinations which were both closed by authorities after heavy tourist traffic took a heavy toll on coastal ecosystems.[5] Urging the government to reconsider the airport plan, Kampung Genting village chief Azman Awang Mohd said that the airport would not benefit local people, who were being kept in the dark about the project, “Why is there no transparency in communicating information about this airport to us? The authorities have not sought our feedback.” Residents suggested possible alternatives to a new airport. The island already has an airport a few kilometers north of Kampung Genting at Kampung Tekek. A short runway only allows small planes to land and some islanders suggest upgrading it, including lengthening the runway, could be a viable option for accommodating an increase in visitor numbers.[6] Locals also suggested upgrading the jetty to make it more efficient for passenger arrivals by boat.[3]

In November 2018 Dato Sri Wan Rosdy bin Wan Ismail, Mentari Besar (First Minister) of the state of Pahang, said that state and federal governments will monitor construction of a new airport to ensure that Tioman’s environment is not affected. Tioman Island has been declared a marine park and he made assurances that at least seven government departmentswould ensure compliance with the established rules. The departments charged with this responsibility are: Department of Environment, local authorities, Department of Marine Park, Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID), PLANMalaysia, Water Regulatory Body (BKSA), State Secretary Office and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.[7]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:New airport on Tioman Island, Malaysia
State or province:Pahang
Location of conflict:Kampung Genting
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Ports and airport projects
Specific commodities:Tourism services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

A plan for a new, second, airport on Tioman Island first emerged in 2003, but was cancelled in 2009 following protests over the environmental damage that would be caused. The proposed site was off the coast of the village of Kampung Paya. The airport project was revived in June 2018 when Vincent Tan, executive chairman of Berjaya Group (also referred to as Berjaya Corporation Berhad) said a plan would be submitted to the government.[1] The project cost is estimated at RM1.2 billion (USD288 million). Vincent Tan stated that construction of the airport would be financed by Berjaya Group with internal funds and loans from banks, at no cost to the federal government.[8]

Level of Investment for the conflictive project288,000,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:2003
Company names or state enterprises:Berjaya Corporation Berhad from Malaysia - In June 2018 Berjaya Corp Berhad announced it would submit plans for a new airport to the government
Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) from Malaysia - Stated there are environmental concerns over the project and did not approve previous plans for a new airport
Relevant government actors:Government of Malaysia
Pahang Darul Makmur
Department of Environment
Department of Marine Park
Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID)
Water Regulatory Body (BKSA)
State Secretary Office
Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Reef Check Malaysia -

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
tourism businesses
Forms of mobilization:Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsDamage to coral reefs, sea grass beds and beaches
Health ImpactsPotential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Other Health impactsIllnesses caused by pollutants emitted by aircraft
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsNegative impacts on established tourism businesses


Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Stated commitment to comply with rules regarding Tioman Island's marine park status[7]
Proposal and development of alternatives:Residents have suggested upgrading the existing airport at Kampung Tekek, including lengthening the runway to accommodate larger aircraft,[6] and upgrading the jetty to enable an increase in visitors arrive by boat.[3] Building a new airport in Mersing instead has also been suggested.[1]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:At this moment there is a stated commitment to comply with rules regarding Tioman Island's marine park status[7]. But the project goes ahead

Sources & Materials

[1] Environmental NGO: Build airport in Mersing, not Tioman, The Star Online, 14 June 2018

[2] Tioman airport extension off, The Star Online, 8 March 2009

[3] Tioman villagers protest proposal for new airport, The World News, 23 October 2018

[4] Tioman needs better facilities, not new airport: Group, The Edge Financial Daily, 25

[5] Villagers fight to save Tioman reefs, Citizen Journalists Malaysia, 29 October 2018

[6] Proposed Tioman airport will not benefit locals, environment, New Straits Times, 27 October 2018

[7] New airport will not disturb Tioman Island’s environment: MB, Bernama, 24 November 2018

[8] Berjaya Group wants to build airport in Tioman, The Edge Markets, 7 June 2018

Meta information

Contributor:Rose Bridger, Stay Grounded, email: [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:3945



Kampung Genting

The proposed new airport would have negative impacts on the village of Kampung Genting. Source: @ Kampung Genting by Chang’r licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0


Social media campaign against a new airport on Tioman Island. Source: Citizen Journalists Malaysia

Protest against a new airport

On 21st October 2018 villagers and NGOs protested against the proposed new airport in Tioman. Source: Citizen Journalists Malaysia

Protest against new Tioman airport

On 21st October 2018 villagers and NGOs protested against the proposed new airport in Tioman. Source: Citizen Journalists Malaysia

Plan for new Tioman airport

The proposed site, off the coastline of Kampung Genting, raised concerns that land reclamation would damage coral reefs and beaches. Image: Haji Azman. Source: