Malaysia's new international airport should open in the fall of 1997, an official said.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport at Sepang, about one-third of the way complete, is about 40 miles southwest of the capital.It will replace the congested facility at Subang, now the main air gateway.
Projects valued at 5.4 billion Malaysian dollars (US$2 billion) have been awarded and another M$200 million worth will be offered for bids within the next three months, said Liang Hian Ching, senior general manager for construction of the passenger terminal for Kuala Lumpur International Airport Bhd.
''We are expecting it to reach 95 percent completion on Sept. 15 next year.
''Once this is reached, the airport can actually be used,'' he said last week during a break in an international airport technology conference in Kuala Lumpur.
Full operations are scheduled for January 1998.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told the session that countries in the Asia-Pacific region will have to spend more than US$200 billion for development of airports if they are to cope with surging air traffic growth.
The International Civil Aviation Organization projects air travel in the region will grow between 6 percent and 7 percent a year for the next several years.
By the year 2010, it will account for more than half the global total, up from one-third in the early 1990s.
Pierre Jeanniot, director general of the International Air Transport Association, said recently that the number of passengers using the Asia-Pacific's seven primary international airports rose by 47 million in 1991-95.
By 1999, another 59 million passengers will be added, he said.
New international airports are being built or planned in Hong Kong, China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia, with capacities for more than 40 million passengers a year and services for the next generation of large-capacity aircraft.
Malaysia Airports Bhd. has spent more than M$2 billion on development and improvement since it took over operations in 1992.
It will continue to operate Subang airport even after Sepang opens, with new parking bays for aircraft being added at a cost of M$8.5 million.
The country is considering another airport in the north, partly to ease congestion at Penang, the island off the northwestern corner dominated by electronics companies.
Tajudin Ramli, chairman of state carrier Malaysian Airlines System Bhd., acknowledged last fall that Penang is overstretched.
''Trade has increased so much that even if you bring in new aircraft, there would be no place to park them or bring goods onto them,'' he said.
Stopgap work to squeeze maximum efficiency from existing facilities is under way.
Mr. Tajudin said the feasibility of building a new airport for Penang, Perlis, Kedah and Perak states is under consideration.
That area is part of the Northern Growth Triangle, a free-trade and investment zone linking Indonesia's northern Sumatra, southern Thailand and northwestern Malaysia.