Formerly known as Pitu airport, Leo Wattimena is a private airport located on the southern coast of Morotai Island in the east Indonesian province of North Maluku.
Leo Wattimena Military Air Base Commander (Danlanud) Colonel Navigator Arif Budiyanto remarked in Ternate on Saturday that in accordance with the program from the central level, the construction of an integrated military airbase in Morotai must be realized by 2020.
Moratai Island was the final island invasion in Netherlands New Guinea before the liberation of the Philippines. The island was recaptured by the 31st Infantry Division on September 15, 1944, with only light opposition.
Situated at the Pacific rim sharing border with neighboring country of the Philippines, Morotai has historical backgrounds related to the World War II in September 1944.
That is the main reason for developing the Leo Wattimena into an integrated military airbase on Morotai Island, instead of Babullah airport in Ternate.
In addition to building an integrated military airbase by the Air Force to support the development of Morotai Island, the Navy will also build docks where the Navy personnel will be prepared to support integrated airbase with submarine installations such as those in the Natuna Islands.
As the first step to develop the Leo Wattimena airport in an integrated military airbase in Morotai, the military has prepared development of radar unit to be placed at Tanjung Sofi in North Morotai.
In addition to radar units and guided missile units, the military will deploy air defense detachment around the Leo Wattimena Air Force base.
A navy base will also be built and an army battalion will be placed in that area of Leo Wattimena airport, formerly knows and Pitu airport.
In 2011, the North Maluku provincial government made an effort to turn Pitu airport into an international aerodrome on the island of Morotai to support tourism development and investment in east Indonesia.
At the time, the local government proposed the effort to change the status of Pitu airport (now Leo Wattimena) into an international aerodrome to Transportation Ministry.
The Transportation Ministry responded to the proposal and sent a team to North Maluku to obtain first-hand information about the feasibility of Pitu airport.
The North Maluku provincial government wanted to make Pitu an international airport to support the program of making Morotai one of tourist destination in Indonesia, especially in the eastern part of the country, but to date, the plan has not been realized.
Morotai district has a big potential of marine, natural, cultural, and historical tourism.
The local government Morotai district at the time was also programmed into the center of the fishing industry by the local government, and therefore, it should be supported by adequate infrastructure and international standard airport.
With an international standard airport in Morotai, both domestic and foreign investors would be attracted to invest in fishery industry and other fields in Morotai District.
Then in 2012, the Ministry of Transportation and the Air Force reached an agreement to allow Pitu or Leo Wattimena airport to function as a commercial airport.
Leo Wattimena airport is located on Morotai Island where the Allied Forces of World War II built a vast air base to support their campaign against imperial Japan. It has seven aprons of which only one is currently being used by the Indonesian Air Force.
With the Air Force having agreed to also use Morotai as a commercial airport at the time, it was important to make it operational ahead of the opening of Sail Morotai, an international marine event, on Sept 8, 2012.
At the time, the Transportation Ministry armarked Rp20 billion in state budget funds to expand the airports runway, while the North Maluku provincial government would pay for the construction of a passenger terminal and supporting facilities.
With Morotai airport also functioning for commercial aviation, it was hoped that North Maluku would also become more accessible to investors because the existence of adequate air transportation facilities was usually a prime consideration in investors decision to operate at a certain region.
The provincial government was in fact planning to develop the airport into an international aerodrome as it was quite strategically located at the edge of the Pacific Ocean and in the path of international flights.
A number of national airline companies had already expressed interest in opening regular routes to the airport in Morotai when it had started operating commercially.
Rich in marine and natural resources, the island Morotai in North Maluku deserves to be developed into industrial centers in East Indonesia.
The Morotai island waters is huge, consisting of 160 different fish species of significant economic value and of 31 different commercial value, with a volume reaching 148,473.8 tons per year.
Morotai is quite well-known in the world, and if its potential natural resources can be promoted with supporting data, it is quite possible that Japan and some other countries would be interested in doing business there.
The island of Morotai has a great potential of fishery resources, and it could be offered to investors to invest in seafood processing industry.
Source: ANTARA News