Decolonisation (1957-1966)/ Subang Airport


The airport project in Subang was a vital component in Malaysia’s Second Five Year Plan because it manifested Malaysia’s national and trans-national aspirations. Tunku Abdul Rahman often referred to it as the gateway to malaysia through which the country and its citizens may be better connected to the rest of the world.

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In the 1930s, the british established an aerodrome on land previously reserved for a race course at Sungei Besi, 3 miles from the capital city Kuala Lumpur. Together with those at Singapore, Penang, Taiping and Alor Star, these airfields formed a strategic network connecting economically important colonial cities in Malaya.

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In the 1950s, its tarmac runway was extended to 6200 feet but this was hurriedly laid to allow military aircraft operating against Communist insurgents during the Emergency. A new terminal building was then required. Even with the resurfaced runway and its new building, the airport was limited by a parking apron for just 4 aircraft, and the runway itself was still inadequate. Users of the airport were also rapidly increasing, reaching a figure of 65000 in 1959. Being close to town, there was considerable noise pollution to nearby residential estates from the jet engines. Thus the possibility of much-needed airport expansion was hampered by its proximity to the central mountain range that rose 5000 feet within 15 miles of the aerodrome, offering an awkward aerial approach path. By February 1958, Sungei Besi was officially deemed unsuitable as a national airport and the new government decided that another site had to be located for a new airport complex.

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Its design and construction took place in the early 1960s, at a time when air travel as developing and when the subsonic gave way to the supersonic age in aircraft development. the terminal building was built as the first Malaysian airport to cater to the range of airplanes dedicated to international flight. In this period, plans were under way for a larger geo-political entity to be known as Malaysia that coralled former british colonies and dependencies in Southeast Asia. An airport at the Federal capitol would thus allow direct connection from there to cities in the peninsula in the fastest possible way, not only to east coast peninsular cities like Kota Bahru and Kuantan, but also those in “farflung Malaysia” like Kuching and Sibu. At 11400 feet, its completed runway length would superpass the existing 9000 feet one in Singapore and 9845 one in Bangkok. Besides, its 3 parking aprons would allow up to 14 aircraft at any time, so the availability of the airport would boost the nation’s economy as well as the city’s fast growing status as a regional tourist destination and a stopover on international pacific-atlantic routes.

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The airport was opened officially on 30th August, 1965. The airport terminal served the nation for almost three and a half decades during which time 2 more terminal building extensions were constructed alongside it on the same airport site in 1976 and 1993. The original building, now known as terminal 1, also underwent renovations in the 1970s.

1 Comment on “Decolonisation (1957-1966)/ Subang Airport

  1. Air traffic is an important national symbol. Other than documenting the historical sites after independence, what are your arguments in these projects in a whole that you want to narrate as “decolonisation”? You may want to focus on one or two aspects such as the overall spatial planning of these projects (infrastructural significance), or the the specific architectural features/ symbolism. You can research on newspapers or pamphlets in the 60s~70s to look at the social impact of these projects.

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