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Malaysia Opens New Airport

June 27, 1998

SEPANG, Malaysia (AP) _ Amid a dazzling laser display and fireworks, Malaysia on Saturday unveiled its sleek new airport, designed to put the Southeast Asian nation on the map in the new millennium.

Malaysia’s King Tuanku Ja’afar officially opened Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Saturday night. Wide-bodied jets will begin howling across the sky on Tuesday.

``It is good for the ego,″ Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told the Far Eastern Economic Review when asked why his nation _ facing a regional economic crisis _ needed such a huge airport.

Once all three phases are developed, the airport’s backyard will include hiking trails for jet-lagged travelers, golf courses, a shopping center, hotels and a track to host the 1999 Formula One motorbike championship.

With a rambling roof resembling white Bedouin tents, the five-level KLIA boasts the world’s tallest air-traffic control tower, biggest passenger lounge and the capacity for 25 million people a year.

Airport authorities claim the $2.5 billion airport is the world’s largest, spread over 25,000 acres of rain forest.

The superlatives could also bring super-duper headaches.

To accommodate millions more passengers and the faster jets which require longer runways, the KLIA has been pushed 40 miles south of downtown Kuala Lumpur. That’s too far for some travelers, who preferred the old airport 20 miles outside the city.

The economic slump sweeping across Asian skies has also curbed Asian wanderlust; tourism in the region dropped by 13 percent last year.

Nevertheless, KLIA supporters say Mahathir’s push to finish the airport was opportune. Malaysia saved money, they said, by getting the KLIA infrastructure into place before the ringgit lost nearly 40 percent of its value.

Update hourly