Jakarta. The Ministry of Transportation and the Jember district government have agreed to expand Notohadinegoro Airport in East Java to cater to annual hajj pilgrims.
Around 96 percent of East Java's population of 37.5 million are Muslims, according to Central Statistics Agency (BPS) data.
"We are coordinating with several agencies, such as the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Directorate General of Immigration and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, to make the airport suitable as a sub-embarkation point for hajj pilgrims in the future," Jember district head Faida said during a meeting in Jakarta on Thursday (11/01) with Agus Santoso, civil aviation director general at the Transportation Ministry.
The airport currently has a 1.5-kilometer runway, which is not long enough to accommodate larger aircraft, such as the Airbus A320 or Boeing B737 800NG. The runway will be extended to 2.5 km, while the airport terminal will also be expanded, with seating capacity increased to 187 from 70 currently.
"We are excited and believe Notohadinegoro Airport's expansion is indeed required, as the Jember area has been developing significantly," Agus said.
"However, this expansion will not be easy, because we must consider several factors, such road access to the airport, and classic issues, such as land acquisition," he added.
Faida said at least 17 groups of hajj pilgrims have to travel by bus from Jember to Juanda International Airport in the provincial capital, Surabaya, every year to embark on Mecca-bound flights. The upgrade of Notohadinegoro Airport will provide pilgrims with an alternative, which may save them time and money.
The city is also famous for the annual Jember Fashion Carnaval, which last year attracted thousands of photographers and journalists from local and international media outlets.
The Rp 370 billion ($27 million) airport expansion project is scheduled for completion next year.