Friday, 30 September 2011 became a historic day for the airport of Selaparang, and in fact, a historic day for Lombok and NTB in general. From 18:00 hours that day the Selaparang Airport was officially closed to all flights. This airport was to be moved to Lombok International Airport which is located in the south of Praya, precisely in the vicinity of three villages Tanak Awu, Pujut and Penujak in Central Lombok. Its location is 40 km from Selaparang.
I accidentally came on this last day of Selaparang Airport Lombok. What an opportunity, it became the final landing for me in Selaparang. As someone who had once co-managed Selaparang, there was an established emotional bond between me and this a small but artistic airport.
So on that sunny morning, the weather was nice, as the stewardess announced the airplane would soon be landing at the airport Selaparang, through the window of a Boeing, I looked out. To the left were the three islands that became a visible trade-mark of Lombok, namely the Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. Having a stunning west coast, I sincerely think that Lombok is more beautiful than Bali. With the road that is located on a hill side by side with a blue beach below, Lombok always manage to force passers-by to stop and take pictures. More especially as one looks into the winding shore, great white sand with non-stop waves. Easily, there is a distinct sensation of being amidst such beauty.
Garuda Indonesia Boeing 737-800 NG Flight GA430, registration number PK-GEM, smoothly landed onto Runway 10. As I got out of the plane and walked down the stairs onto the apron, the Tower of Selaparang relics of the past showed of a look, still as dignified. Unique for Indonesia, Selaparang’s Tower stairs are located outside, and not inside the building Tower, probably as proof of architecture of a heritage long passed.
On the apron, several passengers took pictures of themselves standing in front of the posted signage of Selaparang Airport and in front of the terminal where a blue banner notified everyone that starting from 18.00 hours that day, Selaparang Airport would cease operations and beginning October 1, 2011, the airport would move to Lombok International Airport.
I wandered briefly at the tiny airport, respecting the busyness that would soon cease. Soon, there would be no more Selaparang Airport, its history will soon be over. How sad.
Later that afternoon, with the officials and staff Selaparang Airport, I made time to go watch the last flight that took off from the airport Selaparang. Boeing 737-800 NG moved from its parking stand. Swiftly the plane taxied toward the runway, I could feel so real inside me, how Airport Selaparang felt like dying, unavoiding the end point.
As the dim afternoon sun began to fade, the last plane, the Garuda, taxying passed the Selaparang Airport Tower. At the airport apron, I can see that almost everyone of the officers were out of their stations, spilling onto the apron, busy with each HP cameras and photographing the historic end of a beloved airport. Among them, there was Director of Airport Technic Mr. Bambang Tjahyono Directorate General of Transportation together with his staff, busily photographing and directing the camera to the plane as it took off. Very concerned with the transfer of this airport, he was a person who worked hard to make the transfer process of the airport ran smoothly.
That afternoon under the darkening twilight, promptly at 17:50 Captain Aji Saputro piloted a Garuda Indonesia Boeing 737-800 Boeing PK-GEL to take off on airport runway of Selaparang for the last time. I could feel the sadness as I observed a small airport and beautiful such as this, ending its responsibility, after more than 50 years of functioning as a change-agent between the air and ground modes of transportation, the traffic of people and goods as well as the gateway of NTB Lombok.
In the evening at 19:00 hours, there was a small ceremony, acting as the release process of emigration to the new airport. In front of the VIP Room there was a stage backdrop of “Boyongan Selaparang Airport Lombok International Airport”. In the event, the Deputy Mayor of Mataram gave a farewell speech and then pulled out the traditional spear as a symbol of heritage of Airport Selaparang emigration to a new location. After the procession, we celebrated in firecrackers and fireworks party at the VIP Room page.
That night, the sky above the Selaparang Airport was colored – iridescent sound of firecrackers exploded one after another. Then, the symbolic spear heritage was taken in a convoy of cars, meandering joyfully toward the long-BIL. Along the way, more firecrackers and fireworks were shot into the air, making it all so lively.
At 9 pm the parade of motors entered the Lombok International Airport. An amazingly lengthy procession, where the front car all the way until the police guards at the tail, were all lined right in front of Passenger Terminal; the rearmost car then drove off the highway and into the airport entrance.
The mosque in front of the existing Airport gave a special greeting. The Central Lombok Regent Suhaili welcomed the traditional spear, which he regarded as heirloom, and put it majestically in a bowl. This was said to symbolize how the people of Central Lombok were now ready to accept the transfer from Mataram airport to the new location today.
The first landing
On the Saturday, October 1, 2011 it was sunny and slightly cloudy blue sky above the village of Penujak. Once again, another truly historic day for NTB especially Central Lombok. That day saw the first flight landing into the Lombok International Airport. At 10:13 hours a Boeing B-New Generation 737-800, registration PK-GEL flight number GA-432A landed for the first time on the Earth of Central Lombok. Captain Setia Budi landed the plane smoothly from Runway 13.
Previously at the briefing, it was planned to conduct an actual low-pass at the location where the plane landed but it did not immediately make a motion to fly low over the runway, before turning in to land. For some reason this plan was canceled. Well, probably because the plane was carrying the Governor of NTB, Director General of Civil Aviation Harry Bhakti, Director General of Tourism, the Mayor of Mataram and several other high officials.
Dust billowed strongly when the plane wheels first hit the runway, yet then the Garuda plane glided smoothly with grace. Upon entering the apron, the aircraft engine bursts off such dust that might have been caused by smoke not being fully cleaned. The plane parked in front of the aerobridge, but did not use it because the welcoming ceremony was to be held at the apron by the Regent of Central Lombok.
In his welcoming address, the Regent of Central Lombok guaranteed operational security of the Lombok International Airport. He explained that his ancestors had once predicted that one day in Central Lombok, there would be many perched Kediye Bantong – dragonflies and there it was, that very day, a kind of animal like Kediye Bantong actually landed on the soil of Central Lombok.
Governor of NTB also guaranteed to provide airport security operations in Central Lombok. With diplomacy he said that in this world there was actually no area with completely safety, security and zero interference. If anything, then all can be controlled by legal means, through consensus, agreement and discussion to find a way out and the solution. Hopefully the commitment of the rulers of this area can actually be implemented in the field, so the management of PT Lombok International Airport, Angkasa Pura I, can run the airport operations with ease.
Outside the terminal, the combined security of Air Force, Police, Army and Security Airports were working hard to secure the airport. This was really an unusual once-a-lifetime event, therefore the public and residents around the airport tried to get as close as possible to be able to see firsthand the Garuda Indonesia Boeing. People came and crowded around the airport, making the security guards work extra hard.
And it came to pass, the Passenger Terminal turned into a night market. The public piled, crammed and the passenger terminal was overflowing with traditional master peddlers selling various goods. In no time, the passenger terminal of BIL became the new traditional market, where people sold peanuts, soft drinks, roasted corn, balloons and some even selling durian … such buzz! The concentration of officers was focused onto keeping the people to not enter the Airside. It was no easy task. In front of the terminal, the curb-side parking cars were lining irregularly.
The distance to Mataram Lombok International Airport is 35 km, to Senggigi 45 km. This became an operational constraint at the beginning of the airport operations. Airport employees must travel a considerable distance to work. Fortunately DAMRI provide buses regularly, operating from Senggigi to LIA. The buses are a viable alternative that allows transportation modes. It costs IDR 10.000 and for the early stage this is quite affordable too. And since the charge of an airport taxi in LIA is by the meter, it was apparent that the Buses were taking the larger market share than what was originally intended for. This has grown into a new problem, waiting for a solution soon.
Excited to view it all, I climbed onto the tower of air traffic controller using the elevator, to see from here how panoramic and expansive the coverage of the airport was. The tower, nearly 50-meter-high, stands sleek and efficient. The room in the Tower is relatively narrow. From the radio, I could hear the sound of a Wings airplane from Surabaya reporting its position, going through airport Selaparang with an altitude of above 4,500 feet, the distance was 16 miles from BIL. From up here, even though the water dam of Jai Stone looked discouragingly brownish, I could sense a soothing feel. Mount Rinjani was proudly posted at 11 o’clock of the Tower, and in the west the sun was brightly moving down onto the next hill.
Settlement of Infrastructure
In the early phase of Lombok International Airport (LIA) operations, much remains to be resolved. Later it would be inaugurated by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The schedule was set to be held in mid October 2011. Inter-agency coordination must continue to be done to make this LIA actually be able to function as the gateway of Lombok and NTB.
Road access into the airport has not been fully completed, in some segments of the planned two lane road, much is not done and many are still in the stage of completion. Street lighting in the center median of the road in front of the airport is also not in full operational. The darkness gives the impression that as an international airport it is not yet optimal.
LIA still needs much improvement. Another thing that is not less important is the demand of local people to come work at the airport, and to get a portion of the trickling down effect of the existence of the airport in their neighborhood. This may become quite complicated for the public relations manager of the airport. It should be addressed wisely so as not to cause friction that makes the safety factor to be undermined.